In Franz Liszt’s long career he wrote a great deal of piano music, songs, choral and orchestral works but relatively little chamber music. This new release is therefore especially welcome in introducing some infrequently-heard music of the genre to a wider audience.
The first track, the Duo Sonata
based on Polish themes, was written relatively early in the composer’s career. The work is, in fact, a tribute to Chopin, who had made his Paris début in 1832 and, befriended by Liszt, was gradually drawn into the latter’s social circle. The four movements are based around Chopin’s Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 6 No. 2, with an injection of other Polish material along the way. The listener’s attention is first grabbed, and then maintained from the very outset.
Chopin’s original theme is initially heard in the second movement, where it is treated in theme and variations manner, which show moments of display from both performers. The violin’s music tends to dominate the third movement, sometimes lyrical, sometimes virtuosic, and culminates in a cadenza. A final Rondo brings the work to a close with a typically grand Lisztian climax.
The Epithalamium for the Wedding Celebration of Eduard Reményi
was written for the violinist’s marriage to Gizella Fay. Reményi, who had chosen a Hungarian name rather than his original surname of Hoffmann, had been involved in the Hungarian disturbances of 1848. He was forced to take refuge abroad, where he joined the young Brahms in a concert tour that took them to Weimar, where Liszt held court, and from whom Reményi received great encouragement. Brahms, on the other hand, gained greater benefit from meeting violinist, Joseph Joachim, and then the Schumanns. Liszt’s musical wedding-present is a piece of elegant allure and ends with a short violin cadenza, perhaps a hint of what might have been, had Liszt written the violin concerto for Reményi that he had once intended.
Die drei Zigeuner
(The Three Gypsies) was first a setting of a poem by Lenau in which a weary traveller sees three gypsies resting in a field, one playing the fiddle, one smoking and the third sleeping. It was in fact Lenau’s ‘Faust’ which supplied the musical stimulus for one of Liszt’s best-known piano solos – the Mephisto Waltz No. 1. The Three Gypsies is suitably imbued with ‘Hungarian gypsy style’, to which the violin is particularly well suited, with its easy and natural penchant for varying moods within a composition, for example from the meditative to the rhapsodic.
The first of Liszt’s two Elegies
heard next, was originally a piano solo, with the explanatory title ‘Schlummerlied im Grabe’ (Lullaby in the Grave). It was subsequently issued in various versions, including the present one for violin and piano. As Keith Anderson, in the concise but informative sleeve-note, points out, Liszt’s use of the falling interval of a semitone instils the piece with appropriate melancholy, save for a final glimmer of hope in the closing bars. The second Elegie
features a gently lyrical passage marked ‘dolcissimo amoroso’, which concludes in a passionate climax, before finally subsiding.
Hungarian violinist, Jenő Hubay, crafted an idiomatic piece of violinistic invention with his arrangement of Liszt’s Valse-Impromptu
, an original piano solo first written in 1850-1852 and revised by the composer in 1880. Hubay dedicated his demanding violin and piano version, published in 1932, to American-born violinist and conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, who spent most of his performing career in the UK, where he became a British citizen in 1985.
The closing work on the CD, Liszt’s Grand Duo concertant sur la Romance de M. Lafont ‘Le marin’
was written in 1835, and is based on a piece by French violinist Charles Philippe Lafont, who was especially prolific in such ‘Romances’. Introductory passages lead to the theme – itself a rather unassuming ‘Andantino’ – after which follows a series of variations: the first for the violin, and the second mainly for the piano, with pizzicato accompaniment from the violin. The third sees both protagonists involved with some especially demanding writing, ending with a violin cadenza. A suitably virtuosic ‘Tarentelle’ leads to a martial conclusion, where no concessions are made for either player.
Even if this release were on a mid-to-full-price label, the superb quality of the playing, instrumental balance, real flair for, and affinity with the music itself would make it a desirable addition to any collection. Couple this with Naxos’s first-rate recording and budget price, and it surely makes it irresistible, whether you’re interested in expanding your knowledge of Liszt’s chamber-music output, or you’re just a fan of the ever-popular combination of violin and piano. Very good listening, either way.
Philip R Buttall