Géza Zichy - Complete Piano Transcriptions
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)

Chaconne BWV1004 [12:58]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810–1849)
Polonaise in A major op. 40 no.1 [3:43]
Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Nocturne no. 3: Liebestraum [4:52]
Liszt-March [3:33]
Idyll [2:21]
Nász-Gavotte [2:09]
Entrance and King's Anthem [2:50]
Liebestraum-Fantasie [4:28]
Rákóczy March [4:43]
Fantasie über Motive aus Wagner’s 'Tannhäuser' [15:36]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. 23–24 July, 8 and 17 September 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios, Brazil

Count Géza Zichy (1849-1924) is one of those extremely obscure composers who was well regarded in his lifetime but who has long since been forgotten. This is echoed in the liner-notes which refer to Zichy as an almost unknown figure. The writer ponders how many listeners will have heard of him. I must at this point say that I had actually heard of him due to Liszt’s wonderful transcription for two hands of Zichy’s Valse d’Adele (S456) which has been recorded by Leslie Howard on Hyperion CDA66984, by Michele Campanella and others. I also came across his name while reading Alan Walker’s superb three volume biography of Liszt, albeit mostly in the footnotes.  Anyway, when I heard of these recordings, I thought it would be a good opportunity to acquaint myself with some really obscure repertoire.

A little history might help put this fascinating figure in context: Zichy was a nobleman who lost his right arm in a hunting accident at the age of 14. However, due to his diligence, hard work and patience, he still went on to have a career as a one-handed concert pianist. Even the arch critic Eduard Hanslick was impressed. He was taught by Liszt from 1873 onwards and the master was very impressed with his pupil's work. It is worth mentioning that the repertoire in his lifetime for left-hand works was not large; there are a few pieces by Alkan, some etudes by Saint-Saëns and a few other odds and ends. Zichy took it upon himself to arrange some pieces so he could play them in concert.

This disc begins with Zichy’s transcription of the famous Bach Chaconne in D minor from the Partita for solo violin (BWV1004). It was also arranged by Brahms for left-hand alone (Anh.1 no.5) and later for both hands by Busoni.  Here, Zichy accurately transfers Bach’s original thoughts to the piano from the violin. Listening to this recording, it is hard to believe that there is only one hand playing here. Zichy’s solutions to the problems of playing this work are somewhat different to those provided by Brahms. Around 4:00 Zichy includes some extremely difficult writing which is a world away from Brahms’ much simpler solution. This piece works like a dream and is very adeptly played. Cimirro is sparing with the pedal - too much would muddle the sound.

Next follows an arrangement of Chopin’s so-called Military Polonaise, Op.40 no.1 in A major. This doesn’t work quite as well as the Bach piece – there seem to be holes in the texture and, despite Mr. Cimirro’s best efforts, I prefer the original. There are some odd-sounding key changes here with notes not quite as in the original. These adjustments have obviously been done for ease of playing with one hand but to me it sounds too different from Chopin’s version. It is also shorter as some sections of the original defied arrangement.

The same cannot be said of the Liebesträume No.3 ("Oh Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst", S541 no.3) arrangement which works amazingly well. I would be hard-pressed to tell that there is only one hand at work. This really is phenomenal playing and a super arrangement which, as the notes tell us, Liszt was happy with.

Next follows the longest piece on this disc, the Fantasy on 'Tannhäuser' which starts off as a straight transcription of the Overture. After this some very harmonically interesting changes lead into the Entrance of the Guests from the same opera. Being familiar with Liszt’s arrangements of both of these works (S442 for the overture and S445 for the Entrance of the Guests), it was extremely strange to hear the themes laid out for just one hand. It is also astonishing how much detail there is here despite one hand playing. I really liked this piece. It works extremely well and is played with great flair.

The remaining pieces on this disc are short and some are for both hands. The first of these is the rather fun and powerful Liszt-March which apparently was written as a memorial to Liszt. It quotes the Rákóczy March at the beginning and has some quite Wagnerian music at the end. This is followed by a rather charming little Idyll - again for two hands - showing that Zichy knew how to write memorable tunes of his own. Track 7 is called Nász-Gavotte and is another charming and lovely little piece for both hands. The structure reminds me slightly of Chopin especially in the cadences which are reminiscent of the Chopin Military Polonaise transcription. The little Entrance and King’s Anthem is extracted from Zichy’s opera Alár and is suitably heroic and majestic. Interestingly, this may have been arranged by another hand (sorry, hands) – those of Dezséri Bachó István who, according to the notes, was a military-band leader in Budapest around the turn of the twentieth century. Again, this is a short and memorable occasional work which is full of difficulties. It is perhaps a little too short.

With the Liebestraum-Fantasie we are back to left-hand only music. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the earlier transcription of Liszt’s famous Liebesträume no.3. It appears to be a reaction to the poem which inspired Liszt’s song in the first place. In a similar style to the earlier Idyll it is utterly beguiling and is fantastically well played here. For anyone with an interest in tackling this work, the score is available on IMSLP by searching for 'Zichy'. You can also find there some of the other pieces found on this disc and on another disc (Acte Préalable AP0371) which includes Zichy's complete original works.

Finally, we have Zichy’s arrangement of the Rákóczy March for left-hand alone. This was arranged numerous times by Liszt, most famously as the fifteenth of the Hungarian Rhapsodies. There are numerous differences between this left-hand version and the older composer's work. Some of the harmonies are utterly different and it is instructive to compare the two composers’ views of the same music. This is great and powerful stuff.

The piano sound is very clearly captured but is perhaps a little brittle. The piano playing itself is superb. As I have said before, it is hard to believe there is only one hand at work here as the level of detail to be heard is incredible. The notes are interesting and pass on to the reader what little knowledge is available about this really obscure composer. I look forward to hearing more from Mr. Cimirro as he is clearly someone to listen out for.

Jonathan Welsh

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