Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Wagner and Weber Transcriptions
Tannhäuser: Overture, S422/R275 (1848) [17:28]
Tannhäuser: O du mein holder Abendstern, Recitative and Romance, S444/R277 (1848) [8:44]
Two pieces from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, S445/R278 (1852)
No. 1. Entry of the Guests [11:50]
Am stillen Herd from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, S448/R281 (1871) [10:44]
Walhall, from Der Ring des Nibelungen, S449/R282 (1875/1876) [7:12]
Der Freischütz: Overture, S575/R289 (1846) [11:04]
Steven Mayer (piano)
rec. 26-29 April 2009, St. Anne’s Church, Toronto, Canada
NAXOS 8.570562 [67:32]
An earlier volume in this enterprising series, Liszt’s Donizetti transcriptions, gave me much pleasure, not least for the magisterial playing of William Wolfram (review). Steven Mayer, an academic and performer whose repertoire includes jazz as well as classical, is new to me, but given the quality of this project so far I had high hopes for his recital. And while Liszt’s transcriptions for piano are a tad uneven, one just has to hear the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde to realise he’s a master of the genre. Sadly, that piece isn’t on this disc, but there’s a good sprinkling of excerpts from Wagner’s œuvre, plus a single item from Weber’s.
The Tannhäuser transcriptions begin with a restrained and rather beautiful rendition of the overture. At first I warmed to Mayer’s unassuming pianism and the clear, natural recording, the piano given a pleasing scale and presence. There’s plenty of detail and nicely judged dynamics, but in truth I prefer a more charismatic keyboard manner. As for that well-known tune, ‘Evening Star’, Mayer plays it with poise and refinement but little feeling. That said, there’s an inner glow to the music – a serenity, perhaps – that’s most appealing. Generally, I find Mayer’s phrasing a touch studied at times, a striving for effect that mars otherwise engaging performances.
How would he handle the thrust and sparkle of the ‘Entry of the Guests’, I wondered? Quite well, as it turns out, crisp articulation the most attractive feature of Mayer’s playing. But what I miss is the sense of scale and spectacle that others find here; in short, Mayer has the letter of these scores but not the spirit. I concede this is all about preferences, and I suspect there are many Lisztians who will prefer Mayer’s restraint, which is put to good use in the wonderfully transparent Meistersingers transcription. Now if only he were more spontaneous this would be very special indeed.
Not surprisingly, these criticisms apply to the Ring excerpt and the proto-Romantic overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz. Both sound absolutely gorgeous – this is some of the most alluring piano sound I’ve heard from Naxos in a long time – but where’s the drama? Try as I might, I just could not banish the image of a highly competent pianist busking his way through these scores, always scrupulous but ultimately uninspiring. Frankly, I’d much rather hear Wolfram in these pieces, which would benefit greatly from his more commanding – even theatrical – keyboard style.
Beautiful, but rather lacking in soul.
Dan Morgan
Beautiful, but rather lacking in soul.