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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fantaisie Hongroise, S.123 [14:09]
Danse Macabre, S.126 [14:42]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S.124 [16:52]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S.125 [18:44]
Edith Farnadi (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (fantaisie, danse)
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (concertos)
rec. 3 March 1956 (fantaisie, danse), 15 March 1959 (concertos). Venues not specified
TAHRA TAH723 [64:52]

The piano music of Franz Liszt played a significant part in the recorded legacy of his compatriot, the Hungarian pianist Edith Farnadi. Yet, browsing the CD catalogues, there is a notable absence of her recordings. It is thanks to Tahra that these Liszt recordings have been made available once again from their original Westminster LP incarnations. She had recorded the two piano concertos seven years earlier in 1952, again for Westminster, this time with the conductor Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. These too have been released by Tahra together with Bartók and Rachmaninov concertos (West 3007-3008). Unfortunately I have not heard these earlier Liszt versions so cannot make any sort of comparison.

A child prodigy, Farnadi was born in Budapest in 1921. After lessons with her mother, she entered the Franz Liszt Academy of Music at the age of seven. She studied with Arnold Szekely, Leo Weiner and Bela Bartók. At the age of twelve she directed from the piano a performance of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Whilst at the Academy she twice won the Franz Liszt Prize. After graduation she became a professor at the Academy until 1942. Embarking on a career as a concert pianist she made recordings for the Westminster Label. Amongst the notable soloists she partnered were Jeno Hubay, Bronislaw Huberman and André Gertler, with whom she recorded the two Bartók Sonatas for Violin and Piano.

It is immediately evident from the recordings on this CD, that Farnadi had a fabulous technique and a penchant for the acrobatics demanded by these virtuoso works. However, her playing is not empty, showy virtuosity. There is great drama and depth, yet no unwanted exaggeration. Whilst rising to the technical challenges, she can also be expressive and eloquent as in the duet with the cello in the second movement of the A major Concerto. With sparing use of pedal she never smudges the sound, or blurs the harmonies, but achieves a myriad spectrum of tonal colour. Her flamboyance, bold pyrotechnics and filigree finger-work in the Fantaisie Hongroise and Danse Macabre are awesome.

The recordings show their age, and are a little boxy, but the 1950s sound is more than acceptable. Sir Adrian is a sympathetic partner, fully in tune with his soloist. This terrific Fantaisie Hongroise provides an alternative to my favourite version with Richter/LSO/Kondrashin live (BBCL 4031). Similarly the two concertos can stand side by side with my preferred Richter/Kondrashin studio version on Philips.

Having enjoyed the recordings here, I would like to explore more of Farnadi’s Liszt discography. MCA have released the complete Hungarian Rhapsodies, but these are now difficult to obtain. The Années de pčlerinage and the B minor Sonata seem to be available on two labels I have never heard of before, Haydn House and St. Laurent Studio respectively. It is a great pity that much of her discography isn’t more easily accessible.

With excellent booklet notes, providing context and background, this constitutes a very desirable release. It is to be hoped that Tahra’s endeavours will reawaken an interest in this almost forgotten pianist.

Stephen Greenbank