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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S.124 [19:23]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S.125 [19:50]
Danse macabre (Totentanz), S.126 [17:10]
Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes for piano and orchestra, S.123 [16:10]
France Clidat (piano)
Orchestre de la Résidence de la Haye/Roger Norrington
rec. 1975/76, Salle De Doelen, Rotterdam
DECCA 481 1228 [72:32]

The French pianist France Clidat (1932-2012) made something of a speciality of Liszt, and her interpretations of the Hungarian composer’s music are highly regarded by those in the know. His music took on a prominent role in her career, and she recorded a significant amount, as detailed in her discography. In 2010 Decca France issued a 14 disc set (476 4035) of solo piano works which looks interesting, but which I have not heard.

Amongst her teachers at the Paris Conservatoire was Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964), the influential pedagogue and virtuoso pianist. Maybe it was he who influenced her choice of repertoire. Later, she would hone her pianistic skills with none other than Emil Gilels. At the Budapest International Competition in September 1956 she won the Franz Liszt Prize – it was the first time it had been awarded since 1937. The author and reviewer Bernard Gavoty dubbed her ‘Madame Liszt’ after a successful concert given at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Thus, she stood alongside Monique Haas, Cécile Ousset, Robert Casadesus and Philippe Entremont as an outstanding representative of the French piano school. In addition to her concert career, she taught for several years at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. Her world-wide travels took her as far as Japan, where she gave master-classes. She served on the jury of several major piano competitions, including the International Franz Liszt Competition, and was awarded a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.

In this performance of the First Concerto there’s an innate feeling of structure and unity. It can seem rather disjointed and piecemeal in some hands. This isn’t the case here. Norrington and Clidat successfully traverse the narrative of the score, particularly highlighting the more lyrical sections. The Second Concerto is generally a more intimate affair, and in the second movement the section between piano and solo cello is captured exquisitely. I have always loved the Richter/Kondrashin recording here. At no time, in these performances, do you feel that Clidat sacrifices lyricism and poetry for mere showy virtuosity.

The Totentanz is one of most exciting performances I’ve ever heard. There’s tremendous energy, drama and menace. The wide dynamic range adds to the thrill of this powerful reading. The Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes for piano and orchestra, S.123 is rhythmically buoyant, full of memorable melodies and an apt vehicle to showcase the pianist’s virtuosic prowess.

These are well-recorded versions in superb sound for their forty years, with the responsive acoustic of the Salle De Doelen, Rotterdam conferring a sense of space, warmth and clarity. Balance between soloist and orchestra is ideal. Norrington provides admirable support. Clidat draws rich sonorities from the fine piano. Her range of tonal colour is admirable. As well as displaying a complete command of the technical difficulties these works exact from the player, her expressive powers in the more lyrical sections are what make these performances highly distinctive.

Stephen Greenbank


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