Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Grande fantaisie symphonique on Themes from Berlioz's ‘Lélio’, S120 (1834) [30:03]
Totentanz, S126 (1839-65) [17:11]
Daria Telizyn (piano)
Kiev Symphony Orchestra/Igor Blazhkov
rec. Kiev, Ukraine, 1990
Also available on CD Claudio CR4012-2
CLAUDIO RECORDS DVD-AUDIO CR40126 [47:16]
Although there are only two numbered concertos Liszt wrote quite a few other works for piano and orchestra. Amongst his earliest efforts is the first of the two works recorded on this disc: the Grande fantasie symphonique on Themes from Berlioz's ‘Lélio’ dates from around 1834 and was apparently not orchestrated by him. This work does not follow the programme of the source material which is scored for very large forces but cherry-picks some of the music from it and fashions it into a fantasy. This was apparently the first recording of the work and dates from 1990; the score was only published in 1981 and then only in a two-piano arrangement. The first time I heard this work was on Michel Béroff’s EMI Classics boxed set of the Concertos, Malédiction and Wanderer Fantasy which apparently was recorded in 1978, released in 1980 and re-mastered in 1990 - all of which raises the question: was this a first recording? Maybe it is the first fully digital recording? Anyway, the present recording was made possible due to collaboration in the form of an East-West Cultural exchange. Various other artistic groups participated and the recording sessions took place in Kiev in 1990.
I should also point out that I’d never heard of the soloist prior to this recording. Sadly, since this was made, she has died aged 44 leaving only a small discography.
The Lélio fantasy is not cast in any traditional way with separate movements. It is made up of several parts which follow these tempo directions: Lento, Allegro vivace and then Andantino, senza interruzione – Vivace animato. I have two other recordings of this work and this one is the slowest coming in at seven minutes shorter than Béroff but only a minute slower than Leslie Howard in his Hyperion cycle. Despite its odd structure and fiendishly difficult piano and orchestral writing, this work possesses a charming lilt, something which is very obvious in this recording. Daria Telizyn clearly possessed a superb technique and grasp of musicality as, even in the slightly awkward passages, especially towards the end of the piece, she is able to project both clarity and personality.
I should point out that this disc would not play on our Blu-Ray machine so I have had to use a streaming service in order to review this disc. Even using that, it is possible to detect that the recording is extremely clear. For example it is easy to discern the soloist’s descending chords at about 28:30 which are sometimes lost as the orchestra blasts away at full volume. I suspect that this may be due to the Blu-Ray DVD/Audio sound quality which really helps bring out the details, ably helped by the precision and accuracy of the orchestra and sterling work by the conductor. The introduction is full of scale passages and trills and Telizyn shows that she was able to play with beauty as well as power. There is a lovely playful section around 20:00 which showcases how much in synch the piano and orchestra were. Playing throughout is super and both pianist and orchestra are perfectly in tune with one another. There is an authentic Russian sound to the brass and woodwinds which somehow makes the overall timbre of the music darker. This suits the more sinister elements in both pieces well.
Next follows the much more famous Totentanz, originally inspired by ‘The Triumph of Death’ frescos which Liszt saw in the Campo Santo in Pisa in 1838. Liszt was somewhat obsessed with death and started the work in 1839 before revising it twice more before publishing the final version for piano and orchestra in 1865. It seems that the original (from 1849) is lost but the intermediate version from 1853 was edited by Busoni in 1919 and published. It is said that the original score remains in a private collection somewhere and for nearly a century has never seen the light of day. We may never know if Busoni was true to Liszt’s intentions or not although I personally doubt it being aware of the changes he made to Liszt’s unfinished Fantasy on themes from 'The Marriage of Figaro', S697. I digress; further arrangements of the final (1865) version include solo piano (S525) and two piano (S652) scores which, to my knowledge have yet to be recorded. I have to ask why not?
Totentanz is fairly often recorded along with the concertos and so there are numerous versions available. Despite its overall dark and sinister nature, there are lighter passages and some very lovely writing for both piano and orchestra. The introduction here seems to possess a darkness which is not often brought to the fore in recordings. The main statement of the theme around a minute in is especially black and foreboding. The monstrously hard glissandi at about 3:30 are remarkably clear and precise and seem to fit better with the accompaniment than other recordings I have heard. I like the way Telizyn builds up the speed at about 8:00 before leading into the Toccata-like variation which, interestingly, is not taken at super speed here. It makes the transition to the next variation sound more natural. The cadenza - bar 394 in my Eulenberg miniature score - is particularly good; it shows that you don’t need to race through it despite the overall fairly rapid pace of the whole piece. The last minute, with full orchestra and pianist at full stretch, send a shiver up my spine - this is how Totentanz should be played. The accompanying orchestra again do a super job here and the scary and sinister sections really are hair-raising. Interestingly, among the recordings I know, this is one of the slowest. This is due to the care and beauty of sound that this soloist incorporates, especially in the slower parts.
The recorded sound is splendid throughout the whole disc and the playing by the soloist and the orchestra, along with the conductor is exemplary. The cover notes are a little scant and contain some interesting mis-translations but these do not affect the meaning of what is being said. Although the running time is not particularly generous, this is more than made up for by the musicality of all concerned. An utterly gripping listen with wonderful playing from a soloist who died tragically young. In researching this disc, I found out that she also recorded the Liszt Sonata in B minor, S178 and two of the Trois Etudes de Concert, S144, nos. 1–2 and some shorter piano works by Tchaikovsky which I shall have a proper listen to at a later time.