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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Bagatelle sans tonalité, S216a [3:15]
Wiegenlied (Chant du berceau), S198 [3:32]
Vierter Mephisto-Walzer, S216b [3:08]
La Lugubre Gondola II, S200/2 [9:32]
Schlaflos! Frage & Antwort, S203i [3:07]
En rêve - Nocturne S207 [2:39]
Années de pèlerinage, Troisième Année, S163 [54:55]
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. 2017, St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68202 [80:15]

Années de pèlerinage, troisième année and other late piano works reads the title on the cover of this Liszt CD from Cédric Tiberghien, though the disc has the late pieces first, then the seven pieces of the 3rd book of the Years of Pilgrimage, which were written over the decade preceding those six selected late pieces, and in some ways foreshadow their style. It is a very satisfying compilation nonetheless, however sequenced, and at 80 minutes, a generous one. Most importantly, this is superb Liszt playing.

Bagatelle sans tonalité was the initial subtitle of what was meant to become the Mephisto Waltz No 4, but Liszt must at some point have realised it did quite not belong in that earlier series based on Lenau’s Faust. So he started again, and the actual (unfinished) Mephisto Waltz No 4 is also on the disc, and both that and the Bagatelle are so sensitively played that even those wary of the title ‘late Liszt’ will be drawn in. What remains Faustian about both these 1885 pieces, and other late ones here, is a sense of questing, of pushing at boundaries – itself a feature of Liszt’s earlier music but now usually without the former degree of virtuoso demands.

These last offerings from a very long-lived artist are as much ‘music of the future’ as any piece of his revolutionary youth and middle years, but now that future is not Wagner but Debussy and Scriabin. They are deeply satisfying, crafted pieces, none more so than the most haunting and substantial of the group, La lugubre gondola II. Liszt was staying with Wagner in Venice and was struck by the silent funeral processions of gondolas. He had, he said, a premonition of Wagner’s death, which indeed occurred in Venice soon after. La lugubre gondola II was one of four pieces that resulted. It is haunting and desolate, its rocking motion a comfortless barcarolle of the bereaved, incomparably moving in Tiberghien’s hands.

The 3rd book of the Années de pèlerinage is not as elusive as some of those late pieces, but neither are they as initially approachable as the first two books, with the exception perhaps of the popular Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este. That piece is also forward-looking of course, it’s just that Ravel’s Jeux d’eaux and some of Debussy’s aquatic impressionism have made it retrospectively familiar. But it is so much more than a precursor, and more religious than pictorial in theme. Jeremy Nicholas’s excellent booklet note reminds us that at one point in the score Liszt quotes from St John’s Gospel (4:14): “but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”. Tiberghien has all the technique needed for those sunlit watery cascades of tone, but also the inward feeling for the spiritual dimension. The two threnodies Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este I and II are more austere but no less impressive, especially the funereal second, the longest item on the disc and given an interpretation of great weight. The closing Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”) makes a suitably uplifting conclusion to one of the best discs of these late works now in the catalogue. The recorded sound is exemplary and enables us to hear just why the pianist himself inserts this note in the booklet: “I would like to express my extreme gratitude to the whole Yamaha team for their outstanding support and work, providing one of the finest instruments I have ever played.” He might have thanked the composer too, but then perhaps such playing as this is tribute enough.

Roy Westbrook
Previous review: Stephen Barber


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