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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Aleksandra Mikulska (Piano)
rec. 2017, Gewandhaus, Mendelssohn-Saal, Leipzig
GENUIN GEN18494 [83:23]

Aleksandra Mikulska, born in Warsaw in 1981, is yet another from a crop of hugely talented young pianists who are struggling to gain recognition in an overcrowded field. Her competition successes include Special Prize for Best Female Polish Pianist at the 2005 Chopin International Piano Competition. She has concertized throughout Europe at various important venues and has made several previous recordings, though none have seemed to deliver a major breakthrough for her career. Perhaps this fine new one will give her the necessary boost toward broad international acclaim. Not surprisingly, her repertory favors Chopin, but does include large chunks of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and Liszt, and she also plays a fair amount of earlier 20th century fare by Debussy, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

Her newest recording here is a very interesting selection of Liszt, from the popular and dazzling to the little known and modest — and it contains over eighty-three minutes of music! All of the works are from Liszt's middle period with only one exception, the 1872 transcription of a Schumann song, Frülingsnacht. She opens with the three pieces comprising Glanes de Woronince, which are relatively subdued, rather subtle and little-known works in which Liszt does not attempt to storm the virtuosic heights. The first, Ballade d'Ukraine, is a dumka full of passion, but restrained passion. The ensuing Melodies Polonaises is a charming Chopinesque piece and the closing composition, Complainte, is another dumka, this one a bit darker than the other works in the suite. In all three pieces Aleksandra Mikulska captures the heart of each one with her fine sense for the folkish qualities in the music, phrasing the thematic material with feeling and consistently finding the right tempo. My only quibble is that she sometimes favors the beefier side of her dynamics a bit too much.

Her La leggierezza is perhaps somewhat too muscular as well but the fiery passions she expresses so convincingly make this a most persuasive account. No complaints about her fervid rendition of Liebestraum No. 3, a piece whose familiarity makes it hard to bring off this well. Mikulska delivers a perky, subtle account of Soirée de Vienne with a wide range of dynamics and a keen ability to capture the colors and intricacies of the folkish character of the music. The two Schumann transcriptions come off well here, especially Widmung, which Mikulska infuses with both warmth and fiery passion, employing faster than usual tempos and her characteristic brawny dynamics. The three Hungarian Rhapsodies (for once, a pianist wisely avoids selecting the ubiquitous Second) are solidly crafted works that she plays with all the dynamism and color you could want.

Her Spanish Rhapsody, while displaying no shortage of virtuosity and dazzle, conveys the brilliance and subtlety of Liszt's writing, making you realize that a light, colorful work can possess a considerable expressive depth that goes well beyond the flashy and superficial. In short, where other pianists turn bombastic and garish, Mikulska brings out the stately and colorful, the edgy drive and sunlit Spanish images that the music deftly conjures.

Excellent sound reproduction and fine album notes round out this splendid offering from Genuin. If you want to hear a young pianist with rare talent in a very generous program of solid Liszt, this disc will not disappoint. Strongly recommended.

Robert Cummings

Glanes de Woronince, S. 249 (1847)
1. Ballade d'Ukraïne [8:51]
2. Mélodies polonaises 4:36]
3. Complainte [5:38]
Three Études de concert, S. 144 (1845-49):
No. 2 in F Minor "La leggierezza" [5:22]
Liebesträume, S. 541 (1850):
No. 3, O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst [4:27]
Soirées de Vienne, S. 427 (After F. Schubert) (1846-52):
No. 6, Allegro con strepito [6:52]
Liebeslied, S. 566 (1848):
Transcription of the Song “Widmung”, Op. 25, No. 1 of Robert Schumann [3:46]
Frühlingsnacht, S. 568 (1872):
Transcription of the Song “Uberm Garten durch die Lüfte” of Robert Schumann [2:53]
19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, S. 244:
No. 5 in E Minor "Héroïde élégiaque" [9:20]
No. 11 in A Minor [6:46]
No. 12 in C-Sharp Minor [10:27]
Rhapsodie espagnole, S. 254 (1863) "Folies d'Espagne et jota aragonesa" [14:17]


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