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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 44: Transcriptions of Vocal Works
Il m'aimait tant!, S533/R203 [5:27]
Spanisches Ständchen, S487/R161 [3:51]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S534/1, ‘Elégie pour piano seul’ (1st version)[5:34]
Chopin - 6 Chants polonais: No. 5. Mes joies, S480/5bis/R145/5 (2nd version) [4:55]
Wielhorski - Autrefois (Romanze), S577/1/R291 (1st version) [2:57]
Szózat und Ungarischer Hymnus, S486/R158 [8:42]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S534/2/[R618a], ‘Elegie für das Pianoforte’ (2nd version) [6:36]
Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha, Herzog Ernst II von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, S485b [3:16]
Der blinde Sänger, S546/R216, ‘Slyepoi’ [7:13]
Ich liebe dich, S542a/R211a [2:50]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S167/R64/2, ‘Feuilles d'album No. 2’ (3rd version) [6:43]
Romance oubliée, S527bis/R66b, ‘Vergessene Romanze’ (short draft) [2:01]
Magyar király-dal (Ungarisches Königslied), S544/R215 [4:33]
Romance oubliée, S527/R66b, ‘Vergessener Romanze’ [4:26]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S534/R213, ‘Elegie’ (4th version) [7:11]
Joel Hastings (piano)
rec. St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee, Florida, January 2016
NAXOS 8.573557 [76:25]

The Naxos Liszt series has been in progress for over 20 years now and here we have the 44th of the series, featuring various transcriptions and arrangements of choral works. The pianist, Joel Hastings, was not someone I had heard of although it turns out that he had made several other recordings, mostly of music by Liszt. It also transpires that not long after this recording was made, he died at the age of only 46.

The first piece here is the rather wonderful and rarely heard ‘Il m'aimait tant’ – a piece which puts pay to the misconception that Liszt only wrote loud and fast music. Here it is played magnificently and the phrasing is delightful. Next is Liszt’s equally rarely heard ‘Spanisches Ständchen’, which is a transcription of a work by Leo Festetics of whom I know very little. Anyway, this is Liszt in virtuoso mode, as there is plenty of difficult finger work here - Mr. Hastings does a super job. Each little variation of the main theme is handled expertly and the pacing is spot on. Liszt was rather obsessed with the little song he wrote called Die ‘Zelle in Nonnenwerth’ – there are 7 versions in all: one for ’cello and piano, another for violin and piano, the original lied and 4 solo piano versions dating from various times throughout his long life. All are broadly similar in structure but show the evolution in his compositional style. The first version (track 3) is perhaps the most conventional and here is played with exactly the exact amount of reverence; the ending is particularly good. The second version (track 7) is slightly different and around a minute longer in this performance. There is a cadenza at the beginning before the main tune starts and I really like the way this is played here. Elsewhere, other phrases are altered and the accompaniment is slightly lighter, giving a slightly otherworldly feel in comparison to the earlier version. The third version (track 11) is different again – it contains many details not present in the other early versions and is generally a little more complex. Again here, it is very well played. The final version, (track 15), dating from Liszt’s old age is a nostalgic look back on the piece he wrote while a young man and is full of regrets and sadness. It is excellently played and the atmosphere of resignation is superbly well captured. It’s very useful to have all the versions for solo piano on one disc as it is fascinating to compare the versions. Liszt arranged 6 of Chopin’s Op.74 songs as a set but there is also a later version of the one entitled ‘Mes joies’ and that is performed here. It is a little nocturne, sentimental in character and the major differences are in the cadenza and at the ending. Here again, the atmosphere is utterly precise - the little climax in the middle (around 2’50’’) is suitably impassioned and it fades away perfectly before the piece ends. Track 5 is the first version of a transcription of Vielgorsky’s ‘Romance’ and it is, again, another peaceful little piece and is very well played.

Next follows a proper virtuoso piece and one which has ended up becoming the Hungarian National anthem. I’ve been familiar with this piece for a while due to Leslie Howard’s Hyperion set (review) and although here it is played very well, it feels slightly rushed at the beginning. The central section is, by contrast much slower. Also in the second half of the piece, before the main theme heard at the outset returns, there is one passage (bar 145) where Liszt writes 4 different ossias - it’s nice to hear a different solution to the one which Dr Howard used in his recording. The piece ends heroically with lots of tricky leaps and big chords. After several listenings, I grew to appreciate the way that this pianist played this piece – it really is great stuff! Track 8 is a rather splendid little transcription of a song by Ernst Herzog zu Sachsen-Coburg Gotha who was related to Queen Victoria’s husband Albert and was an amateur composer. The piece is lovely, short and the tune (mostly in the bass) is accompanied by some soaring right hand arpeggios, all of which are very well performed here. Liszt set Aleksey Tolstoy’s melodrama originally as a recitation for speaker and piano (S350), he later arranged it for solo piano (S546). This is a strange little piece, hinting at Liszt’s later style and full of odd key and mood changes. Here all of these are held together very well by the pianist. There then follows Liszt’s own transcription of the short song ‘Ich liebe dich’ which is a rather magnificent little creation, very touching and sentimental, which is beautifully played in this recording. Track 12 is the short draft of the ‘Romanze oubliée (Forgotten Romance) which is played exactly right, with a sense of nostalgia tinged with sadness. The original version of this was a song which Liszt recast in old age, adding his trademark unusual harmonies and this solo version is a sort of half-way house to the final complete version which is also recorded on this disc as track 14. Both versions are pleasingly realised, the atmosphere conjured by the playing being spot on. Liszt’s ‘Ungarisches Königslied’ is another self-transcription, this time from a late choral work originally for a combination of baritones and piano. A rather warlike beginning gradually subsides to a more positive and joyful section in the major key before returning to strange harmonies and a recapitulation of the cheerful music, albeit in a different key. In this performance the pacing is perfect and I really enjoyed the way Joel Hastings played this short piece.

The disc is generously filled and the notes, though a little short, give some useful information about the works played. This is a valuable addition to the Naxos Liszt series, with some very engaging and insightful playing from a pianist who obviously thought a great deal about how to play what he was playing and who sadly tragically died far too soon.

Jonathan Welsh



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