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Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Complete Piano Music Vol. 36: Wagner Transcriptions Zwei Stücke aus Tannhäuser und Lohengrin, S445/R278 (1852)
No. 2 Elsas Brautzug zum Münster [6:34] Isoldes Liebestod aus Tristan und Isolde, S447/R280 (1867) [7:18] Phantasiestück über Motive aus Rienzi Santo Spirito cavaliere, S439/R272 (1859) [9:00] Pilgerchor aus dem Oper Tannhäuser, S443/R276 (c. 1861) [5:15] Aus Lohengrin, S446/R279 (1854)
No. 1 Festspiel und Brautlied [11:29]
No. 2 Lohengrins Verweis [4:24] Spinnerlied aus dem Fliegenden Holländer, S440/R273 (1860) [6:21] Ballade aus dem Fliegenden Holländer, S441/R274 (publ. 1873) [4:53] Aus Lohengrin, S446/R279 (1854)
No. 2 Elsas Traum [4:05] Feierlicher Marsch zum heiligen Gral aus Parsifal, S450/R283 (1862) [10:38]
William Wolfram (piano)
rec. 20-21 May 2011, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, Canada NAXOS 8.572895 [69:57]
Just in time to sneak in this review as the epic Wagner centenary
draws to a close. On the transcription front - for piano at least
- I much enjoyed Risto-Matti Marin’s fine collection, which
contains just two of the pieces on this Wolfram CD (review).
I first encountered William Wolfram in Liszt/Donizetti - and very
good he is too (review).
If anything I was even more impressed with his Liszt/Bellini (review).
This corner of Naxos’s mammoth Liszt series has also produced
other sets of transcriptions; among them is Stefan Mayer’s disc,
which I found ‘beautiful, but lacking in soul’ (review).
Indeed, I wrote there that I’d rather hear Wolfram in this repertoire.
They say we should be careful what we wish for. My initial response
to this new disc was somewhat mixed; the power is there, but the poetry
of Wolfram’s earlier CDs is harder to find. Elsa’s bridal
procession, which starts well enough, is more muted and discursive
than I’d expected. Also, his articulation isn’t as crisp
as before, and textures seem a bit clotted too. What I miss most is
that long, seamless line, the blend of anticipation and conflict that
Liszt encapsulates so well. Cranking up the volume to suggest dramatic
intensity is only half the story, and I suspect that’s all we
get here. Ditto the Tristan, which is apt to turn in on itself
rather than move inexorably towards those ambiguous final cadences.
That’s not to say there’s no magic here at all, it’s
just that it tends to get lost amidst all that posturing. The sound
is perfecly decent, although other recordings I’ve heard from
the CBC studio - Wolfram’s especially - are more ingratiating.
Back to the music, and the Rienzi piece is rather lovely; it
would be even more appealing if Wolfram phrased more sensitively and
refrained from those annoying agogic pauses. Liszt has done all the
work, so it’s really not necessary to embellish or underline
the music in this way.
The Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser certainly has
the right devotional character, and Wolfram shapes and shades the
music very well indeed. He also gets more of a sense of progress,
of that long dramatic arch, and only spoils the effect slightly by
sounding too excitable in the climaxes. Marin scales his Liszt/Wagner
with far greater sensitivity and teases out the music’s buried
colours to glorious effect. Admittedly Alba’s highly sophisticated
Super Audio recording is a bonus. As for the Lohengrin transcriptions
they are serviceable, but there’s a persistent - and frustrating
- sense of the music being held at arm’s-length.
Wolfram just isn’t as communicative here as I know he can be,
and that’s a pity. Still, the Spinning Chorus from Der Fliegender
Holländer has much to commend it; if only the playing weren’t
compromised by all those irritating mannerisms. Marin’s reading
is altogether more rewarding, not least for its rhythmic felicities.
Speaking of which Wolfram is a tad unyielding in Elsa’s Dream
from Lohengrin and the march from Parsifal; indeed,
the latter is perhaps more somnolent than solemn, and it brings the
disc to a somewhat unsatisfactory close.
As much as I admire Wolfram as a pianist this is a curiously uninvolving
recital. At least Marin’s disc is a cause for celebration; apart
from its many musical and sonic virtues it offers less-well-known
transcriptions by other hands as well.
Musically this isn’t as good as Wolfram’s earlier discs;
ditto the sonics.