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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin
Elsas Brautzug zum Munster (transc. Liszt) [8:24]
Tristan und Isolde
Prelude (transc. Kocsis) [9:36]
Isoldes Liebestod (transc. Liszt) [5:42]
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
Prelude to Act 1 (transc. Kocsis) [10:28]
Parsifal
Feierlicher Marsch (transc. Liszt) [9:55]
Festive March
Zoltan Kocsis (piano)
rec. London, September 1980
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 7401 [44:28]

These recordings date back to 1980, and were released on CD for the first time in 1990. Long since deleted, they have made a very welcome comeback on the Australian Decca Eloquence label. The CD features Wagner transcriptions by Franz Liszt together with two by Kocsis himself, filling in the gaps where Liszt never ventured.
 
Kocsis states in the booklet notes, which he has himself written, that Liszt was the greatest master of the transcription and paraphrase. This particular genre was much more popular in the past, and many may consider it a bit out-dated today. At the time these transcriptions were composed there was a dearth of orchestral performances and many of Liszt’s transcriptions, especially of works like the Beethoven symphonies, served in making this music more accessible and popular to the average man in the street. Whilst the Beethoven symphony transcriptions do nothing for me, Liszt’s other transcriptions and paraphrases, especially his operatic ones and his transcriptions of Schubert songs, I find immensely rewarding and enjoyable.
 
Elsas Brautzug zum Munster from Lohengrin is new to me. Liszt’s conception of it is not showy or virtuosic in any way, but completely undemonstrative. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and tenderness. Kocsis delivers it with great feeling and tonal allure.
 
I have never understood why Liszt never transcribed the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, as a companion to the Liebestod. The only transcription that I am acquainted with is that by Ernest Schelling, in a recording by Paderewski. I have never thought it very satisfying, as I find it’s grandiloquent, over-inflated and over-blown virtuosity not really suited to the introspective nature of the music. Kocsis’s transcription is extremely fine and evokes exactly the right atmosphere, making an apposite pairing with the Liebestod which follows.
 
Likewise, Liszt was not tempted by the Meistersinger Prelude. Once again Kocsis steps into the breach with a truly masterful realization, employing enormous inventive skill and orchestral colour. He explains in his notes that the prelude ‘offers great potential for creating an orchestral illusion’. The programme ends with Feierlicher Marsch from Parsifal, a piece that Kocsis considers neglected somewhat. After an imposing march, the work ends in quiet reflection, against what sounds like the tolling of bells.
 
Despite the short measure of 44 minutes, this is a very satisfying programme. Kocsis plays with great conviction, luscious tone, expressive phrasing and sensitive dynamic contrast. The Decca sound is exemplary.
 
Stephen Greenbank