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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 43: Transcriptions of Symphonic Poems
Les Préludes (arr. Karl Klauser, rev. Liszt, 1885) [17.09]
Orpheus (arr. Friedrich Spiro, rev. Liszt, 1879) [10.31]
Künstlerfestzug (second version, 1883) [9.40]
Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (No. 1 Die Wiege - Le Berceau; No. 2 Der Kampf um’s Dasein - le Combat pour la vie; No. 3 Zum Grabe – Die Wiege des zukunftigen Lebens; A la tombe – Berceau de la vie future) (1882) [15.27]:
Der nächtliche Zug (from Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust) (arr. Robert Freund, rev Liszt, 1872) [14.25]
Vierter Mephisto-Walzer (1885) [3.46]
Sergio Monteiro (piano)
rec. Small Rehearsal Hall, Wanda Bass School of Music, Oklahoma City University. OK, USA, 1-5 June 2015
NAXOS 8.573485 [71.11]

One notices immediately that many of these transcriptions are not by Liszt. One wonders therefore why he did not initiate such transcriptions himself? Of those received from the pens of others, he felt impelled to impose his revisions before sanctioning them.

I mention this because the opening piano chords of Klauser’s transcription of Les Préludes sound so much weaker than the trenchant atmospheric opening of Liszt’s original and highly popular orchestral version. Having said that, this arrangement is immediately strengthened when the grand main theme of Les Préludes is stated. The lyrical second subject sounds a tad hesitant. At about 7.00 the music grows melodramatic and I could not help smiling at an involuntary association with ‘the entry of the villain’ sort of piano accompaniments for silent cinema. The introspective passages at around 9.00 are more successful and the concluding pages are grand enough. Interestingly, Liszt ‘praised Klauser’s arrangement as “pretty” and “tuneful” though he also noted it needed 'some touching up before sending it to the publishers.' Sergio Monteiro makes an impressive fist of the material available to him.

The Friedrich Spiro arrangement of Orpheus is much better. It stands up well as a piano piece in its own right mainly because of its more intimate nature, sentimental but with a noble strength to that sentimentality. Liszt had been impressed with the depiction of Orpheus on an Etruscan vase and the notion that Orpheus had a civilising effect on humanity. This philosophy and Liszt’s music strongly impressed Wagner. The music is in the form of a gradual crescendo with a quiet ending.

Künstlerfestzug zur Schillerfeier (Artists’ Processional to the Schiller Celebration) was composed by Liszt for the Schiller birth centennial in 1859. Liszt made his own transcription first in 1860 and then secondly (played here) in 1883. It is a grand processional – ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, Hungarian style.

In 1881, inspired by a drawing by Hungarian artist Mihály Zichy entitled From the cradle to the grave, Liszt wrote Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe for piano - in two hands and single piano versions. This served as the model for his 13th and last symphonic poem. Monteiro plays the three movements with refinement and sensitivity. The opening movement ‘The Cradle’ is a beautifully wrought lullaby, gently suggesting caring and devoted mother-love. The second movement brings conflict and turbulence to ‘The Struggle for Existence’; and, at first, there is a morbid, melancholic atmosphere for ‘To the Grave: The Cradle of Future Life’ before a calm solace is introduced and then a mystical, ethereal, other-worldly mood is established to suggest the mystery of the next life.

Robert Freund studied with Liszt and developed a close relationship with the ageing composer. Liszt in turn admired Freund; nevertheless he revised and added corrections to Der nächtliche Zug (The Night Procession) based on material in Lenau’s version of the Faust legend. The music represents Faust’s horseback ride into a darkened forest. He sees a procession of monks singing the Eucharist Hymn Pange lingua gloriosi. Faust is reduced to tears as he contemplates his damnation. This vivid evocation begins in quiet contemplation before a nervous ride through a tangled forest and then pious supplication.

Finally the Vierter Mephisto-Walzer continues this Lenau Faust association. This is the Fourth Mephisto Waltz and not to be confused with the better known No. 1 composed in 1860 as the second movement of the orchestral work Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust. The other three Mephisto Waltzes were composed in the 1880s, the Fourth completed in Budapest in March 1885 a year or so before Liszt died. Its character is dark and malevolent with a devil’s trill prominent. Although not strictly Liszt symphonic poem material, these musical realisations of the events and moods of Lenau’s Faust have come to be associated and grouped with them.

In summary then: a mixed blessing - works often uninitiated by Liszt but polished performances.

Ian Lace



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