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53 Studies on Chopin Études 1
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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Four Valses oubliées, S215/R37 [16:32]
Two Csárdás, S225/R45 [4:26]
Csárdás macabre, S224/R46 [6:24]
Mephisto Polka, S217ii/R39 [4:15]
Mazurka brillante, S221/R43 [4:23]
Valse mélancolique in E Major, S214/2/R32b, 33b [5:24]
Valse - impromptu, S213/R36 [6:03]
Valse di Bravoure in B - Flat Major, S214/1/R32b [7:46]
Valse de concert, S430/R263 [7:53]
Grand galop chromatique, S219bis [2:11]
Grand galop chromatique, S219/R41 [3:31]
Goran Filipec (Piano)
rec. 2017 Campus Fichtenhain, Krefeld, Germany
NAXOS 8.573705 [69:24]

Croatian-born pianist Goran Filipec (b. 1981, Rijeka) has been a prize winner in several important competitions, including the 2009 Jose Iturbi Competition and the 2011 International Franz Liszt "Premio Mario Zanfi" Piano Competition. He also has an impressive list of teachers, which includes Evgeny Zarafiants, Natalia Trull and Naum Grubert. Filipec has appeared on a number of other recordings, including volume 42 in this series, which contains two sets of études after Paganini, and volume 51, housing the Consolations and various other works but not yet issued as I write this. For the former disc, from 2016, Filipec was awarded the 39th International Grand Prix du Disque by the Ferenc Liszt Society of Budapest. He thus comes under consideration here with impressive credentials.

Filipec chooses a well-balanced program of mostly choice Liszt, some of the works here being revisions of, or based on, earlier compositions. He begins his recital with the set of four waltzes comprising the Valses Oubliées. In No. 1 he plays with a fairly light touch most of the time and displays all sorts of nuance in his dynamics, pedaling and other facets of phrasing. I can recall other performances of this work by Brendel, Cyprien Katsaris and Byron Janis and none seemed quite as subtly played as this version by Filipec. In the other three pieces in the set Filipec is just as effective, displaying elegance, digital clarity and refinement, while generally eschewing a bigger, more grandiose tone. Not that he doesn’t play with heft or a sense of the epic when called for: he can ring out with plenty of power but generally chooses instead to point up elegance, wit and subtlety.

Try either the Csárdás obstiné or the Csárdás macabre and notice his deft touch, his well-judged dynamics and the clarity of his notes, even when there is a shimmering effect in the upper register. And when he does opt for a massive tone, as in the latter part of Csárdás macabre, he is never clangorous or harsh, but crisply powerful and resonant. Arguably, Filipec misses no significant aspect of the vast palette of expression in these works. Listen to his witty account of the Mephisto-Polka, to how the music has a gentle but impish character, the upper notes graceful but menacing, as if the music is laughing - laughing mockingly at you. Liszt again shows here that he had a great talent (and propensity) for imaginatively depicting the devil in his music.

Filipec delivers an excellent account of the ensuing piece, Mazurka brillante, along the way playing up the stylistic kinship to Chopin. His Valse-Impromptu is one of the truly splendid performances here, evincing wit, gracefulness and a subtle handling of the infectious tune whose playful character is delivered with subtlety and elegance, and with an adroit sense of rhythm. In the Valse de bravoure, also a Chopin-tinged piece, Filipec gives the music an almost diabolical Lisztian menace when he transforms from elegance one moment to unstable outbursts the next, or from playful notes in the upper register to a rush of angry percussive notes in the bass regions.

The Valse de concert, a transcription of Janos Vegh’s Suite en forme de valse, is a reasonably good performance, though tempo choices throughout by Filipec tend to be on the very brisk side, too much so. Leslie Howard, rarely ever one to drag the pacing in the performances in his massive complete survey of Liszt’s piano works for Hyperion, takes 9:04 here compared with Filipec’s fleet 7:53. Other pianists also take it at a much slower tempo. Again, tempo is an issue in the two versions of Grand Galop Chromatique (the first quite difficult, the second the so-called édition facilitée), but in this instance the swashbuckling character of these pieces fits the incredible speed of Filipec’s playing. His technique is obviously fantastic, and what a pair of pieces - perfect encores both - to end this recital.

There are many great Liszt interpreters on record, and, to name a few, one could cite Brendel, Arrau, Lazar Berman (especially in his earlier years), Craig Sheppard (now somewhat forgotten) and maybe one could add Argerich, though she has played comparatively little Liszt. Also, there are many notable young pianists vying for elbow room among Lisztians, including Aleksandra Mikulska whose very splendid Liszt CD on Genuin I reviewed here (review). One could now also make a strong case for Goran Filipec, clearly a talent to watch, perhaps not only in this repertory, but other keyboard fare as well. Naxos gives him clear, well balanced sound throughout and offers highly informative notes by the indefatigable Keith Anderson. Strongly recommended.

Robert Cummings

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