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aBritish Symphonies
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W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
Shaw Piano Concertos 1 and 2

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 [40:52]
Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 [26:25]
Yury Martynov (pianoforte Erard 1837)
rec. 17-21 September 2012, Doopsgezinde Gemeente Church, Haarlem, The Netherlands

We’ve had a few good recordings of the Beethoven symphonies as arranged for piano by Franz Liszt, but Yury Martynov’s project is - to my knowledge - the first on period instruments. It’s certainly a welcome change of pace as long as Martynov keeps selecting pianos as good as this 1837 Erard, which has a pretty full and clear sound that shouldn’t irk many modern-instrument enthusiasts. It approaches the orchestral qualities Liszt desired; the bass is especially satisfying.
It’s been very common for pianists to compensate for the smaller sound by playing more quickly. Pianos can’t sustain notes the way that stringed instruments can, so a lot of Beethoven’s writing, transcribed for piano, benefits from being played like piano music. Yury Martynov bucks this trend, turning in performances slower than many orchestral ones. The Seventh symphony’s allegretto is 9:34 here; compare to Kleiber’s 8:09 or Karajan’s 8:01 (1962).
Martynov has a more romantic sensibility, stripping the First Symphony of its post-Haydn classicism. It’s ironic, given his background in early music and continuo performance, but Martynov takes many a creative liberty - consider the big slowdown for a hushed, heavily pedaled reading of the third-movement trio, or the long suspenseful pauses as the finale begins. Honestly, I find the expansiveness and soft touch detrimental in the First; this is a piece and an arrangement that could use a little classical rigour and sharpness.
The same qualities which give me pause in the First Symphony contribute to an excellent performance of the Seventh. Though virtuosity is on full display in the fast movements, it’s Martynov’s hypnotically slow, funereal tread in the allegretto and his light, jovial way with the scherzo that stick in my memory. His is a performance that really uses the piano, and specifically this period instrument, to maximum effect.
The booklet offers helpful discussion about what changes Liszt had to make during the transcription process, even if it frames the discussion in the context of Freudian analysis. The sound is good and the piano, as mentioned, a joy to hear; if I liked this less than Martynov’s first volume, it’s because the rather sleepy First Symphony performance doesn’t live up to the vitality of the other three works he’s recorded. The Seventh is a reading that would enrich any collection.
Brian Reinhart