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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
The Sound of Weimar - The Orchestral Works in Authentic Sound
Steve Davislim (tenor)
Chorus Sine Nomine
Orchester Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck
rec. 2010-2017, Franz Liszt Saal, Burgenland, Austria
GRAMOLA 99150 [9 CDs: 602:13]

I have to start with saying that I’ve been familiar with much of this boxed set for several years as I collected the CDs as they were issued separately.  In this form, they appeared across three different record labels: New Classical Adventure, CPO and Alpha – before being bundled together and released in this box set form on the Gramola label in a rather nice red-brick-coloured box with an iconic 1858 photo of Liszt on the front.

In all the works on these recordings, the conductor is Martin Haselböck (who has also recorded Liszt’s complete organ works twice) and the orchestra is the Orchester Wiener Akademie which consists of around forty musicians all playing on period instruments.  The cover notes booklet (100 pages in two languages) contains a wealth of detail about Liszt’s use of the orchestra, his association with the orchestra in Weimar, his work as conductor there and details about the music.  There is also section about the chorus as they perform in both of the symphonies. The series of concerts entitled ‘Lisztomania’ form the basis of this set; it was started in 2011, in the concert hall adjacent to his birthplace, to mark Liszt’s 200th anniversary.

The first disc contains two works: the Dante Symphony (designated S.109 in Searle’s catalogue) and Ŕ la Chapelle Sixtine (S.360) which is based on a piano work, beginning with a performance of the former. There were criticisms at the time of release (especially in letters to Gramophone) about the tempi taken on these recordings – however, if you compare the timings here with, for example, Gianandrea Noseda on Chandos, there is actually little difference.  Personally, and having heard many recordings of this work, I think this slightly faster approach works very well. The other thing that comes across on this recording (and all of the others on all the discs in this box set) is how well Liszt wrote for orchestra and how far he was pushing the boundaries of orchestral writing.  This shows up very well in this performance of the Dante Symphony where, because of the reduced size of the orchestra, you hear a very clear and transparent texture which makes all the tiny details in the score stand out. This conductor makes a really excellent case for this work; I’ve not heard a better performance on disc or via broadcast.

The first movement of the symphony is a very atmospheric depiction of the Inferno; the bassoon’s creepy trills at around 15’30’’ are especially evocative.  There is also some powerful playing by the percussion section. After this first movement, things calm down and we have a section entitled Purgatorio which again is excellently played.  There is some lovely music interspersed with more powerful and unsettling sections before gradually metamorphosing into the third and final movement, the Magnificat.  The choir here does a super job of work, extremely well supported by the orchestra.  By the end of the movement, all the tension and power have been transmuted into peace.  Overall, this is a magnificent performance which really hangs together.

Next follows the fastest and best recording of Evocation a la Chapelle Sixtine (S.360) that I have heard.  I suspect the reason Liszt didn’t include this as part of the symphonic poem canon is that it is free of any literary or artistic starting-point.  Here, Liszt skilfully orchestrates his earlier piano (and piano duet) piece which very effectively combines the chord structure of the beginning of Allegri’s Miserere and Mozart’s Ave verum corpus.  There are minor differences from the original version for piano but I assume this has to do with Liszt’s conception of the work and the difference between piano and full orchestra.  This is one of my favourite works by Liszt in any version and I find it really hard to understand why it has not been recorded more often.

Disc 2 contains just one work: the Faust Symphony in Three Character Portrayals (S.108), divided into three parts - unlike some recordings, which divide the choral finale from the torso of the final movement.  I’ve been familiar with this work for years in numerous recordings by many conductors (plus Liszt’s own versions for two pianos, two pianos with chorus and, more recently, Tausig’s magnificent solo piano transcription) so I know it very well.  As elsewhere, tempi seem fast and the sound is clear and bright. The first movement, depicting Mephistopheles, sets off apace - far more quickly than, for example, Rattle’s EMI recording. However, the important thing is the cohesion of the music.  Here, the twelve-tone row found at the start seems to flow organically into the following music without seeming to be a separate thing. This is certainly a good start and things continue in a similar vein. The large orchestral outbursts, for example, the so called “Pride” motif at 10’15’’ are superbly handled and do not seem overblown.  Equally, the quieter passages are extremely well shaped and the beauty in the music comes across as does the occasionally sinister side portrayed in this movement (e.g. starting at 14’11’’). As elsewhere, all the sections of this work which could be disparate do not come across as so here; the thematic cross linking is especially clear.  I really like the way he phrases the big build up to the final statement of the “Pride” motif 23 minutes in; it works very well before the movement settles down for its completion with the twelve-tone row from the beginning of the movement. In the case of timing, the whole movement is fractionally faster than some recordings I’ve heard but not by much.  The second movement is a sonic portrayal of Gretchen and is wonderful, both in Liszt’s conception and here in performance. The muted violas and woodwind together produce a beguiling sound which is just stunning. The way the ‘cellos weave their way through the higher strings from 5’50’’ onwards is magnificent, as is the change in tone at 6’34’’ where the music becomes more mysterious.  When Gretchen’s theme returns for the final time with the full orchestra, the depth and layering of the music comes across very well. Things end peacefully and tranquilly in the woodwinds before the final movement begins with a large outburst. I really do like the clarity here; the fragments of tune seem to wind around each other in a most appealing way. Tempo is a little slower than some which helps the interconnectedness of the themes stand out and again the period instrumentation really helps with that too.  This is superbly played throughout with everything present and correct and perfectly judged; the feeling of terror at 15’12’’ is really obvious. After the orchestra has finished transmuting Mephistopheles’ themes into something more diabolical and Gretchen has emerged unscathed, the chorus and soloist provide a fitting conclusion to the work. I’m not an expert in singing (probably because I am unable to sing myself) but I feel the tenor Steve Davislim here does a great job. His tone is just right and he clearly has the power to float above the orchestra as it performs.  The chorus are equally as good and well supported as they sing the Chorus Mysticus which is a setting of words from the second verse of Goethe’s tragedy.  The whole orchestra, plus chorus and organ at 20’24’’ and 22’13’’ really make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as they combine in massive bursts of sound.  Despite all of the angst in this movement, the work ends loudly but peacefully and magically. I think this is now my favourite recording of this magnificent work, supplanting Rattle on EMI.

The third disc contains the most famous of the Symphonic poems – Les Preludes, as well as Orpheus and the first of Liszt’s efforts in this genre: Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (sometimes subtitled Berg-Symphonie).   I found this recording of Les Prelude (S.97) to be incredible and, bearing in mind how often this work has been recorded, it’s like listening afresh to it. It is also one of the fastest recordings I have heard. Often, modern instrument recordings can sound a little “muddy”, especially in the ‘Allegro non troppo’ section (bar 110 in my Eulenberg score) but that is not the case here; the period instrumentation really helps to clarify the textures.  This also applies in the ‘tempo di marcia’ section towards the end.  The work ends powerfully and joyfully in the home key of C major.

Next follows Orpheus (S.98) which is my favourite of the symphonic poems.  There is some lovely phrasing here and the overall mood is mostly restrained and peaceful.  The ‘cellos deserve special mention – especially at bar 16 (in the Eulenberg edition) where they really sing out the main theme.  The short, more agitated section (bar 155) is suitably sinister sounding and overall, the work holds together very well and ends by evaporating into the ether.  Again, here there is some marvellous ensemble playing and special mention goes to the strings. Liszt’s use of so called “chamber scoring” is particularly evident here.

Liszt’s first symphonic poem (S.96) often comes in for criticism as being too long and rambling but here the whole thing holds together very well.  The themes which occur in the piece are played in such a connected, fluid way that you forget that the work is close to half an hour long. Again, many complaints were made at the time about the tempo here but in my opinio, the speed feels about right.  There is no point in dragging things out where it is not indicated in the score. The lovely quasi-religious ‘Andante’ theme is superbly handled; it does not degenerate into a dirge as can sometimes happen.  I feel this is more of a Pilgrims’ March and should be played as such, with a feeling of movement.  The orchestral writing here was, at the time, revolutionary, as no-one was writing music like this in the 1850s. Marvellous stuff, and I hope that perhaps this might be the recording to alter people’s perception of this maligned work.
   
On disc 4, we have Hunnenschlach, Hungaria and lastly, Mazeppa.  Hunnenschlacht (S.105, “The Battle of the Huns”) starts quietly before building to a huge, bombastic climax several minutes in.  Thereafter, there are periods of extreme quiet which are often played on the organ and louder sections for full orchestra. The organ part in the piece is often played loudly so that the work sounds more like an organ concerto than a piece for orchestra with organ accompaniment (with occasional organ solos).  This does not happen here, as the organ is extremely quiet (perhaps a little too quiet in places) but when it joins the orchestra about ten minutes in, the playing is lovely and the forces all work together to produce music that sounds as if it was written for a much smaller ensemble than full orchestra.  The piece ends noisily but it is very well handled and is a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

Next is (S.103), an expansion of Liszt’s earlier Heroic March in the Hungarian Style (S.224) for piano.  This is basically a large orchestral march with several longer, more peaceful sections, some of which are in the style of a funeral march and are based upon earlier material.  The orchestra really goes for it in this piece and the pace is very fast; however, despite changes in tempo (especially in the funereal section in the middle of the work) the whole piece is a coherent whole.  Again, the clarity in the playing really shows through and all the tiny orchestral details which are often lost in larger, modern instrument ensembles are here to be heard. This really shows up well in the huge orchestral glissandi towards the end of the work.

Lastly, Mazeppa (S.100) gallops off at a blistering pace but then seems to lose speed during the
first section of the piece.  Of the pieces from the set I have reviewed so far, this strikes me as the least successful. This is a shame, as all the detail in Liszt’s complex writing can be heard but this performance just doesn’t have the drive in this first part that others do (e.g. Noseda on Chandos, or Joo on Brilliant Classics).  However, things pick up again in the March section toward the end of the work and the piece ends heroically and powerfully. Special mention should go to the trumpets and the repeated notes which occur just before the initial main theme occurs in the closing pages of the work (page 109 in my Eulenberg score).

CD 5 contains the following works: Tasso – Lamento e Trionfo, the much later epilogue to that piece, Le Triomphe Funebre du Tasse (S.112 no.3), Heroide Funebre and Die Ideale.  Tasso (S.96) is often taken too fast - the central section (which is supposed to sound like a minuet, but is not written as one) often loses detail and clarity.  This does not happen here, as it has enough forward momentum to keep the music moving along nicely. The ferocity of the violent outbursts near the beginning of the piece, after the slow, melancholic introduction really makes you jump.  As elsewhere in this series, the whole piece holds together well and the conductor clearly knows how to shape these pieces properly. Special mention goes to the strings in their downward passages at about 2’00’’. There is enough rubato here to ensure that the transition to the sad theme, a Gondola’s song, seems like a logical continuation of what had come before.  This is the minuet-like section I mentioned earlier. The louder, more powerful material returns at the end to provide a suitably rousing conclusion.  It is unusual to have the epilogue to the piece recorded on the same set of discs as the remainder of the Symphonic Poems and its inclusion here is a welcome bonus.  By that later stage in his career (1866), Liszt’s harmonic language had evolved to that of his last years and the piece is very sparsely and lightly orchestrated.  It is also written in Liszt’s later style and the playing from the orchestra manages to extenuate the sadness inherent in the music. There are some powerful outbursts but they are not heroic, they are more like a cry of grief.

Grief in a different way also pervades the next piece – Heroide Funebre (S.102).  The piece is basically an extended funeral march with a slightly less mournful central section.  One problem with modern orchestral recordings is that they put too much emphasis on the unusual scoring - especially on the percussion so that one concentrates on that and not on what the strings and horns are doing, which is usually the main theme.  Here, the whole piece is very well balanced and so you listen to it as a unified entity and no one section is unnecessarily favoured. The tempo is swift compared to some orchestral recordings, so the sadness is not too tragic and overwhelming.  This may not appeal to some listeners, but I like this way of playing it. The central section is especially mournful and beautiful at the same time.

Die Ideale (S.106) is often criticised as being too long, rambling and episodic.  It is essential when this piece is played that the interconnectedness of the themes is clear; for example, when the main tune in F major (at 3’43’’) recurs toward the end of the piece, it must be memorable enough for the listener realise this.  In this case, the trumpets blaze out the main theme in a way that is totally unforgettable. Liszt’s sanctioned cuts are not taken here and with the swift tempo, the piece holds together very well. The details, sometimes lost in modern instrument recordings, are as clear as they could be and the whole piece is excellently played and recorded.

The symphonic poems continue on disc 6, so here we find Prometheus, Festkläng, Hamlet and lastly Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe.  Prometheus (S.99) starts violently before settling down and ends with a fugal section. The writing in this section makes great demands especially on the strings but that is not at all apparent here.  This is another superb performance and, as I’ve said before, the period instrument sound combined with the smaller orchestra really helps to bring out the clarity and the level of detail which Liszt packs into his many orchestral works.

I have always liked Festklänge (S.101); it is a lovely, jolly piece which bounces along happily in B flat major most of the time.  This orchestra really brings out the Polish aspects and rhythms of this work and, as throughout the whole set, it is superbly played and joyfully recorded.  I’ve recently read that there is another, later version of this work which has yet to be recorded. I would hope that in the future, these forces might be persuaded to record this, along with the first of the Schubert marches (see the review of disc 7, later on).

The penultimate track here is of Hamlet (S.104), a strange late work the music atmospherically depicting a ghostly, mysterious pallor.  The period instruments seem to make this more noticeable than is often observed in modern recordings. Muffled trumpets and muted strings produce some creepy sounds with infrequent outbursts from the full orchestra.  Liszt’s use of chamber scoring is more apparent with the period instrumentation here. When things pick up speed at about five minutes, the clarity of the recording and the use of period instruments really help to point out the layered nature of the music with the trumpet calls seemingly in front of the strings and the woodwind off to one side.

Lastly is Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (S.107) which is the last of the thirteen symphonic poems.  Liszt was well into his old age when he wrote this and this is apparent from the orchestral style which is much reduced and, unlike some of the earlier pieces, much less bombastic.  The work is divided into three sections: first, Die Weige (the cradle) which is lovely, almost naďve, music which floats in the middle in the high register of the strings and the top of the woodwind.  Here, as throughout all the discs, the pace is quite fast, so the music does not seem to drag as it can do on other recordings. The second, central section is a wakeup call, with violins leading the section entitled “The struggle for existence”. Strangely, the tempo is slower here than many other recordings I have heard which makes the details stand out well. This is especially noticeable at about three minutes where, in other recordings, you sometimes cannot here the ‘cellos playing their fragment of the tune from Die Weige; not so the case here.  The final section is made up of themes heard elsewhere and this is again slower and more nostalgic-sounding than some other recordings I have heard. The trumpets get one last loud section (at 4’53’’) before the music heard at the outset brings the piece to a quiet, peaceful conclusion. This is again the best recording I have heard of this work which often suffers from a loss of clarity in the sparse textures.  Obviously, playing on period instruments here really pays dividends here.

Disc 7 consists of the orchestrations of 3 of Schubert’s marches, the Wanderer Fantasy, two of the Three funeral Odes (S.112 – the third is on disc 5, the postlude to the second symphonic poem, Le Triomphe Funebre du Tasse) and the world premier recording of the orchestral version of Vexilla Regis Produent (S.355).  I have long been familiar with Liszt’s solo piano versions of the three piano duet Schubert marches - catalogued as S.362, however Liszt also orchestrated these works and also included the Divertissement ŕ la hongroise, D.818 March (published for solo piano as S425/2). So here we have recordings of three of the four pieces in their orchestral versions, catalogued as S.363 nos.2 – 4. According to my sources, the first of the set was composed at the same time as the remainder so I have no idea why it is not on this disc.

The first of these, labelled number three in the solo piano version, is subtitled Reitermarsch.  This is a cheerful, jolly piece in which the structure of the orchestral version matches Liszt’s own piano duet version of the second piece rather than his solo piano version.  As I have said before, the use of period instruments here is of immense help in hearing at the detail within the orchestral score. The rapid tempo taken also helps. The second of the three marches is an orchestration of the first piece found in the solo piano version and is a large-scale funeral march. Here the orchestral timbre really adds to the atmosphere of the piece which is a mournful affair but with moments of beauty in the orchestration in the central section. The last of these orchestrations here is of the Hungarian march from Schubert’s Divertissement ŕ la hongroise, D.818. This piece exists in numerous versions for solo piano and this orchestral version follows one of these many versions, rather than being another view of the same material. The playing throughout and the ensemble work is wonderful and I fail to see why these works are not performed more frequently in concert.

The next piece is Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy (D760 / S.366) in which Schubert’s original is turned into a piano concerto – although here a fortepiano is used.  I should say from the outset that I am not generally a fan of fortepianos (sorry!) however in this case I am willing to make an exception. The fortepianist here is Gottleib Wallisch who is very much at home in this repertoire and he makes a tremendous job of the piece.  Using of this type of instrument, rather than a modern piano, adds to the clarity of the structure and makes all the details stand out very well. Again, tempi throughout are rapid and both orchestra and soloist are in perfect accord. There are one or two spots where the piano sounds a little under powered (especially in the third movement) however these are very infrequent and do not interfere with listening to a wonderful recording, with tempo and all the details spot on.

The following tracks are two of the Trois Odes Funebre from S112, nos.1 and 2.  Again here tempi are slightly faster than I have heard before and, as before, the clarity in the orchestration is amazing.  The first of the pieces is “Les Morts”, here minus the chorus which is frequently included on other recordings despite the score not actually intending that.  Interestingly, there is a recording on the Celestial Harmonies label with the late Zoltán Kochis conducting which is the first recording of the original version of “Les Morts” which I reviewed last year (review).  Anyway, the second ode is based on “Il Penseroso” from the second of the Années de Pélérinage (S161/2) - Italy.  Here, the dark orchestral colours add to the gloom of the work. This recording has become my favourite of these unusual works probably due to the use of the period instruments and the sympathetic conducting.

The final work on the disc is Liszt’s own orchestration of Vexilla Regis Produent (S.355) and is a first recording.  Again, I have been familiar with the solo piano version (S.185) of this for years and have played it myself on many occasions.  Liszt’s use of orchestra here is interesting and slightly unusual. Although the piece is pretty much the same as the solo piano version, there are many changes which were necessitated by changing from a piano piece into an orchestral piece.  It is an ebullient march like piece with one quiet section towards the end with religious overtones throughout and is excellently played. As I said earlier, my only criticism of this disc and that is that it doesn’t include the first of the orchestrated Schubert marches.  However, in fairness, this probably wouldn’t have fitted on the disc as it runs for just about 78 minutes.

Disc 8 contains assorted other orchestral works so on this one we have the 2ndMephisto Waltz (S.111), The two episodes from Lenau’s Faust (S.110 - including the first Mephisto Waltz), the Two Legends (S.113a) and lastly the Rádóczi March (S.117).  I’ve been a fan of the second Mephisto Waltz for years; I first got to know it through Leslie Howard’s first volume of his Hyperion set and ever since then, I’d been interested to know how it would sound for orchestra.  I bought Arpad Joo’s excellent boxed set on Brilliant years ago and I must say that there is little difference between these two recordings.  I really like the quasi-bombastic feel to this work and here it is excellently captured. The ending of the piece is a surprise as it ends in a foreign-sounding key and comes across as a shock.  Interestingly, I’m sure I have read somewhere that Liszt’s pupil Felix Weingartner orchestrated the third Mephisto Waltz but I can’t currently locate the reference.  To the best of my knowledge, this has never been recorded either.  Anyway, after the bombastic waltz, we have The Night Ride, the first of the two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust.  This is a very strange and mysterious work, hard to bring off in performance but here, it succeeds. There is just the right amount of motion in the music to give the impression of a ride at night which was the intention in the music.  It is suitably creepy and when the plainchant “Pange, lingua, gloriosi corporis mysterium'” breaks through, the transition in atmosphere is one of darkness into light. After this slightly more cheerful music, Faust slumps back into his depression and the work ends quietly, mysteriously and sadly.  Then follows the much more famous Mephisto Waltz no.1 – subtitled “The Dance at the Village Inn”. This is an infernal dance full of virtuosity from the orchestra and some ravishing playing in the central, more restrained section. There is a slight slowing of tempo here so it’s not quite the whirlwind that it could be but, as I have mentioned elsewhere, the clarity of the detail in the period instruments really helps you appreciate how much is going on, as well as the inventive way in which the composer used the orchestra.  The ending chosen is not the quiet, reflective one; it is the powerful virtuosic ending which equates to that found in the solo piano version. The following Two Legends (S.113a) are not frequently heard or recorded. The first of these, “St. Francis of Assisi preaches to the Birds” features imitations of birdsong and some really wonderful orchestral effects. These really do stand out here and the strings do a splendid job of imitating birdsong. This is a great recording of a very rarely heard work and one I shall certainly return to often.  The second legend was inspired by a painting which hung in Liszt’s study, depicting Saint Paola crossing the straits of Messina using a makeshift raft fashioned from his staff and a fragment of wood.   This is a super work; the solo piano version is one of my favourite works by Liszt and one I have played often.  Here, the tempo is suitably swift and the percussion outbursts well controlled enough so that it doesn’t sound overblown or overly bombastic.  The last few pages of quiet music, before building to a massive orchestral outburst, comes off especially well. The final work on the disc is the famous Rákóczi-Marsch which exists in a multitude of versions and instrumentations (especially for solo piano; there are at least 7 versions!).  Here the orchestration is superior to Berlioz’ version which is, in fact, an orchestration of Liszt’s piece although is almost never announced as so. Anyway, this is a powerful march, full of strident rhythms and interesting passagework for the parts of the orchestra. Again, the details are very clear, especially in the high string sections and this performance has plenty of fire about it, providing a rousing conclusion to this disc.

Disc 9, the last one of this set, contains the complete orchestral Hungarian Rhapsodies (S.359, nos.1 - 6).  The history of Liszt’s orchestrations of these is complicated and much misquoted in literature – to the extent that their arrangement is often attributed to Doppler with no input from Liszt.  This is wrong, as Liszt thoroughly revised Doppler’s work before the works were published. It seems people are still unwilling to accept the fact that Liszt also wrote a lot of orchestral music and that it is extremely well orchestrated and uses many interesting effects. The situation with these works and Doppler is rather like Liszt’s use of Conradi and Raff to help him orchestrate some of the symphonic poems in their earlier versions. Those were thoroughly revised by Liszt before publishing their final forms. Incidentally, there is a recording of Raff’s orchestration of Prometheus on a Sterling recording, which is fascinating to compare to Liszt’s final version.  Anyway, the orchestral versions of the pieces are in a different order to the piano solo versions (S244 nos.1 – 19) and I’ve included these numbering in my review for clarity. I’ve also compared these recordings to my other recording of these works with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra to and, just looking at timings, Haselböck is slower in every single piece than Masur which comes as something of a surprise bearing in mind the swift tempi he has taken elsewhere in this set.

The First Rhapsody (no.14 in the piano version and also the basis for the Hungarian Fantasy, S.123) starts slightly faster than Masur, but here again, as with the Symphonic Poems, the details in the orchestral writing are much clearer due to the use of period instruments.  At about three minutes, things perk up after the melancholy introduction; there is some lovely playing here with great attention to detail and clarity. The overall approach is more cheerful and jolly in this recording and there are some lovely rhapsodic sections with solo instruments taking the limelight.  I particularly like the string writing around 11’00’’. The run up to the ending is suitably powerful and all the details stand out very well.

The second Rhapsody (no.12 in the piano version) is so well-known in any version, that it needs little introduction.  Considering the familiarity of the piece, the piece sounds fresh and not just a “going through the motions” performance.  The string leaps around seven and a half minutes are really quite amusing and the music following that continues in this vein.  Things get really comedic at about 9’00’’, before the slow section prior to the final headlong rush to the end. Suffice it to say that this piece is given a great performance here.

The third Rhapsody (no.6 in the piano version) is two minutes slower here than the Masur recording mostly because the Andante section is taken very slowly.  Both recordings use a cimbalom here and it has a prevalent part in this sad little ‘Andante’ section. However, despite the changes in tempo, the piece holds together extremely well and you can hear exactly what Liszt meant in his orchestral writing.  This slow section merges cleverly into the well-known Célčbre mélodie hongroise (also published as a separate piano work, due to its popularity) in B flat major – a bright, happy key with some rather nice cimbalom playing included, making a fittingly cheerful ending to this piece.

The fourth Rhapsody (no.2 in the piano version) is another very well-known piece.  As with the second Rhapsody, the piece again here sounds fresh and there is lovely playing from the whole orchestra, especially in the slow ‘lassan’ section at the beginning which is wonderfully phrased.   Things don’t stay peaceful for long and once the ‘friska’ starts, the dance-like elements of the piece really take off. Again, this is another superb, virtuosic performance.

The fifth Rhapsody (also no.5 in the solo version) is subtitled “Heroide elegiaque” and is suitably sombre but not depressing; it is more hopeful and positive than that. The interlinking cello solo before the major key section is lovely and mournful at the same time (rather like Heroide funebre) but not overly so.  This dissolves back into the minor key opening music before occurring again, the second time it is played in an even lovelier way than the first time. The piece ends quietly and sadly.

Lastly, is the sixth Rhapsody, subtitled the ‘Carnival of Pesth’ (no.9 in the solo piano version).  This is an appropriately cheerful piece and rather comical in places. The whole orchestra does a splendid job and this is a magnificent performance of a delightfully fun piece.  The coda at the end is a terrific mix-up of themes from earlier in the work all wound around each other and the overall effect is exhilarating. Splendid - I would say this is the best recording that I have heard of these works.

To sum up, I am sorry that there is no recording of some of the orchestral works which could have been included as they date from the Weimar years.  For example, Szozat - Hungarischer Humnus, the shortened version of the Rádóczi March, the various Hungarian and other orchestral marches he wrote, as well and possibly the orchestral interludes from the oratorios. Additionally, Liszt’s orchestral transcriptions of other composer’s works such as the Mazurka-Fantasie by Hans von Bülow (only recorded once so far) and the Dances Galiciennes after Zarembski (granted, these date from 1884 but have never been recorded and were only rediscovered in the 1990s).  I also ask why the second Mephisto Waltz is included when it postdates his tenure at Weimar.  It would have been quite easy to have recorded all these other works on discs 10 and probably 11 and released the set as the “Complete orchestral works of Liszt” - and it would have been the first to do that.

However, despite this, and in summary, “The Sound of Weimar” is a wonderful set and essential buying for any Lisztians; the recordings are extremely clear and the use of period instruments really makes the details stand out brilliantly.  The extensive cover notes are excellent and well researched. Thoroughly recommended, especially to those who seem to think that Liszt wrote just piano music!

P.S. can we please have a sequel with the missing works I’ve mentioned, Mr. Haselböck?

Jonathan Welsh

 




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