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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
On Wings of Song - Piano Transcriptions
Praxedis Geneviève Hug (piano)
Recording date and location not given.
RCA RED SEAL 88875 069972 [3 CDs: 70:01 + 53:44 + 62:47]

I first heard of the wonderfully named Swiss pianist, Praxedis Geneviève Hug when I was searching for a recording of Liszt’s rarely heard Hussitenlied (S234) on a streaming service. She seems to be one of a growing number of young pianists who are willing to investigate the more obscure reaches of Liszt’s massive output, perhaps following on from the lead established by Leslie Howard in his phenomenal Hyperion set. Here she plays a selection of transcriptions by various composers and the discs are arranged thus: disc 1 is of Rossini transcriptions; disc 2 is subtitled “On Wings of Song” (a title given to the whole 3 disc set) and includes transcriptions of Schumann and various lesser-known composers; and the third disc is of Wagner transcriptions. Oddly, despite the title, this set does not include Liszt’s delicate arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügen des Gesanges (Op.34 no.2 and S.547 in Liszt’s arrangement).

Disc 1 starts with the early and not often recorded Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini which, although not a masterpiece, is a nicely put together fantasy using four different themes from Spontini and Rossini.  The work is perhaps more famous as Liszt later borrowed the introduction for the seventh of the Transcendental Etudes (S139) - "Eroica".  However, here as an introduction to the Impromptu, it works really well.  Miss Hug is more than able to cope with the technical demands in this little showpiece with its cheerful reference to a theme from La Donna del largo near the beginning.  Her jollity comes across well in this piece.  Next follow the even earlier Huit variations, originally published in 1824 as Liszt's Op.1.  These are interesting and in places point the way to where Liszt's music was heading, especially in the abrupt changes of key and development of themes. Again, Miss Hug does well here.  I profess a certain fondness for the Soirees Musicales transcriptions, and, in comparison to my other recordings (Leslie Howard on Hyperion and Kemal Gekic on Naxos), Miss Hug acquits herself admirably.  Some of the pieces are fractionally slow for my liking and there is perhaps a slight feeling of carefulness in the playing here and there but the articulation and clarity is fantastic.  This is helped by the recording quality which is excellent throughout all three of these discs.

The second disc is given over to lieder transcriptions, mostly by lesser known composers such as Festices and Lassen.  Here there are certain pieces where she is clearly comfortable with what she is playing and is brilliant. However, with some of the pieces she does not seem to be able to project the personality behind the music enough to make it memorable. The first three pieces here - Liszt’s own lovely Canzone napolitana, Festetics’s Spanisches Ständchen and Krov’s Hussitenleid - are very well played and the following piece, a transcription of Ernst II. von Sachsen-Coburg’s very atmospheric song Die Graberinsel is wonderfully played. After this, sadly, things start to go downhill a little. The remaining tracks seem overly careful and not quite forceful enough to stick in the mind. It’s a shame as she is clearly more than able to impart this feeling as she has demonstrated admirably elsewhere in this set. I don’t believe that this has anything to do with the difficulty of the music as her technique is splendid and she is able to cope with the extremely demanding writing in, for example, the Soirees musicales transcriptions on disc 1. Overall, this is the most disappointing disc of the three.

The last disc consists of transcriptions of music by Liszt's son-in-law, Wagner.  Many of these pieces are not straight transcriptions of arias or scenes, they are more evocations of parts of the operas on which they are based.  The Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhäuser is well known and here it is played very quickly - my score says Andante maestoso at the top and this performance is more of a trot!  Miss Hug does, however, use the latest version of the ending of the piece which gives it an ethereal quality; she does this extremely well.  As a minor criticism of the (excellent) liner notes, it isn't made clear is that this is the late version of this piece which is S.443/2 according to the latest catalogues.  Next follows the Romance, Evening Star, also from Tännhäuser.  This is a wonderful performance of the piece, the mood is spot on and there is a suitable amount of emotion imparted into the music.  Track 3 is the Ballade from The Flying Dutchman - this is a sort of potpourri of some themes from the opera, some parts of which come from the overture.  Here the pace also is quite rapid - the last part - which also comes from the culmination of the overture - is very fleet fingered indeed although it is kept together well and doesn't suffer even at this rate of knots!  The Spinnerlied from The Flying Dutchman is next.  Here the rhythms are distorted in the left hand which makes for a surprise when compared to Leslie Howard on Hyperion or Risto-Matti Marin (on a superb Alba disc entitled "Magic Fire").  Sadly, this spoils the piece for me.

The following piece is "Am stillen Herd" from Die Meistersinger.  I've heard several performances of this work and this is certainly the fastest.  However, as with the Ballade, this does not mean it is a poor recording, because it is not.  I like the speed here even though the aria is supposed to be gentle, at least at the outset, and the music holds together well.  Next follows the rightly famous transcription of Isolde's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Liszt was perhaps inspired to arrange this by the transcription by his little known pupil Carl Tausig.  This has been recorded many, many times by lots of pianists and this is perhaps the slowest version I've heard.  It almost breaks down towards the end which is a great shame as Miss Hug clearly has plenty of technique and a lovely feeling for the sound she is creating - some sections in this piece are gorgeously played.  Interestingly, she also uses Liszt's 1875 variant of the climax of the piece, before the music goes quiet and winds down to its peaceful conclusion.  Next follow two late pieces by Liszt which are transcriptions of ideas from The Ring and Parsifal. With both of these pieces, which are taken slightly faster than I am used to, she does a magnificent job. The last piece on the disc is Liszt's only proper fantasy on Wagner themes, based upon Wagner's first successful opera, Rienzi.  This is a brilliant performance, very fast indeed and very exciting.  This is a superb way to round off this disc; I really do envy the way she is able to play this!

To sum up, a very interesting programme of rare (and not so rare) Liszt transcriptions, played by a very enterprising young pianist.  However, some performances are better than others - as I mentioned earlier, some pieces are too slow and lacking personality whereas others are too fast. However, when she is in her comfort zone, she is a superb Lisztian and worthy of the praise she has received in the press and I look forward to more of her recordings in the future.

Jonathan Welsh
 
Track listing
Disc 1
Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini, S.150 [11:10]
Sept variations brillantes sur un theme de Rossini, S.149 [9:20]
Soirées musicales de Rossini, S.424: Soirées musicales de Rossini, S.424:
I. La promessa (Canzonetta) [4:28]
II. La regata veneziana (Notturno) [4:16]
III. L'invito (Bolero) [3:20]
IV. La gita in gondola (Barcarola) [3:31]
V. Il rimprovero (Canzonetta) [3:39]
VI. La pastorella dell'Alpi (Tirolese) [2:13]
VII. La partenza (Canzonetta) [4:00]
VIII. La Pesca (Notturno) [3:43]
IX. La danza (Tarantella Napoletana) [4:22]
X. La serenata (Notturno) [6:06]
XI. L'orgia (Arietta) [3:41]
XII. Li marinari (Duetto) [6:11]

Disc 2
Canzone Napolitana, S.248 [5:08]
Spanisches Ständchen, S.487 [4:16]
Hussitenlied, S.234 [8:07]
Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha, S.485b [2:55]
Lyubila ya - Romance nach M. Wielhorsky, S.577 [2:54]
Provencalisches Minnelied Op. 139, No. 4, S.570 [4:10]
An den Sonnenschein - Rotes Röslein, S.567 [5:10]
Dessauer-Lieder, S.485: Dessauer-Lieder, S.485:
I. Lockung [4:46]
II. Zwei Wege [2:10]
III. Spanisches Lied (Bolero) [4:55]
Drei Lieder nach J. Wolffs Tannhäuser, S.498:
I. Der Lenz ist gekommen [3:44]
II. Trinklied [2:11]
III. Du schaust mich an [3:19]

Disc 3
Pilgerchor aus Tannhäuser, S.443 [5:39]
O du mein holder Abendstern aus Tannhäuser, S.444 [6:43]
Ballade aus dem Fliegenden Holländer, S.441 [5:29 ]
Spinnerlied aus dem Fliegenden Holländer, S.440 [6:00]
Am stillen Herd aus den Meistersingern von Nürnberg, S.448 [8:23]
Isoldes Liebestod, S.447 [8:28]
Walhall aus dem Ring des Nibelungen, S.449 [4:58]
Feierlicher Marsch zum heiligen Gral aus Parsifal, S.450 [8:28]
Phantasiestück über Motive aus Rienzi, S.439 [8:30]


 

 




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