Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Ballade No. 2 in B minor, HS. 171, R 16 [4:24]
Rhapsodie espagnole, HS. 254, R 90 [12:03]
La leggierezza, Étude de concert in F minor No. 2, HS. 144, R 5 [12:23]
Grandes Études de Paganini, HS. 141, R 3b [25:28]
Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto, HS. 434, R 267 [6:31]
Einzug der Gäste auf der Wartburg aus Tannhäuser, HS. 445, R 278/1 [10:45]
Edith Farnadi (piano)
rec. 2 May 1957, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Krone, Süddeutscher Rundfunk (R 5, 16 & 90); 15 March 1961, Stuttgart, Villa K, Süddeutscher Rundfunk (R 3b); 7 May 1968, Stuttgart, Funkstudio Berg, Süddeutscher Rundfunk (R 267 & 278/1)
First CD release
MELOCLASSIC MC1039 [71:37]

The Hungarian pianist Edith Farnadi was born in Budapest in 1921. Her first piano lessons were with her mother, and at the age of only seven she was enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music; Arnold Szekely, Leo Weiner and Bela Bartók were her teachers. There she twice won the Franz Liszt Prize. After graduation she became a professor, a position she held until 1942. Embarking on a concert career, she made recordings for the Westminster label partnering such illustrious names as Jeno Hubay, Bronislaw Huberman and André Gertler, with whom she recorded the two Bartók Sonatas for Violin and Piano. From 1963 she taught at the Music Academy in Graz, and served as a jury member for several international piano competitions. She died in 1973, aged 52, after a long illness. From early on the piano music of Franz Liszt played a significant part in her recorded legacy, yet little has been available on CD. In 2011 the Hungarian Rhapsodies (complete) were released in Japan (JXCC-1074), but they don’t appear to have surfaced in the West, apart from a brief outing on three separate volumes in the early 1990s on MCA. A couple of years ago I reviewed her Westminster recordings of the two Liszt Piano Concertos she made with Sir Adrian Boult in the 1950s (Tahra TAH723).

The present radio studio recordings were set down in Stuttgart between 1957 and 1968, and are all making their first appearance on CD. On this evidence, Farnadi had a formidable technique and met the challenges of this physically demanding music with impressive virtuosity and aplomb. Yet, it is far from superficial technical prowess; she put her astonishing gifts to the service of the music in deeply personal and probing interpretations.

Farnadi has an intuitive grasp of the structure and narrative of the emotionally wide-ranging Ballade No. 2 in B minor. She encapsulates the mood of the opening minor key theme, with its stormy undercurrents. When the this returns, lyrically transformed at the end of the piece and now in the major key, she contours it with intense rapture and eloquence. The sparkling filigree fingerwork and dynamic control in La leggierezza will be the envy of many a pianist. The Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini have never captured the public's imagination to quite the extent that the Transcendental Etudes have, so I’m pleased they’ve been included here. Each is a transcription or paraphrase of a Paganini Caprice, with the exception of no. 3 La Campanella, which is taken from the finale of the Second Violin Concerto. Tremolos, scale passages and double octaves abound, and Farnadi’s adept skill, addressing all the difficulties the composer throws at the performer, is astonishing. The Verdi/Liszt Rigoletto paraphrase has plenty of chutzpah and panache, but doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of the exceptionally stunning account by Byron Janis.

Everything here is well recorded, and Michael Waiblinger has provided a comprehensive biographical portrait of the artist. For some of the finest Liszt playing you’re likely to hear, this is a rewarding release.

Stephen Greenbank