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1847: Liszt in Istanbul
Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano)
rec. 21-22 June 2012, Nilento Studio, Kĺllered, Sweden
DIVINE ART DDA25213 [66:37]

The disc presents music that Liszt played (or may have played) during a two-week visit in Turkey in 1847, towards the end of his final tour. He was completing an eight-year virtuoso career lasting from 1839 to 1847. Liszt arrived in Istanbul (then typically called Constantinople) on 7 June 1847, aboard the Austrian steamboat Conte Kolowrat. He gave several public recitals and two command performances for the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul-Medjid Khan. It is important to realise that at that time the Ottoman Empire was keen to Westernize their domain. The Sultan had received a Western education, spoke fluent French and played the piano. He was also an admirer of Italian opera, so it was appropriate that Liszt played three operatic paraphrases during his recital at the Çırağan Palace. It has been documented that Abdul-Medjid listened “with growing interest, mingled with astonishment and admiration”. Other concerts were given at the Russian Embassy and the Franchini Hall. An exact chronology of the recitals is not known, neither are full details of the music played.

Amazingly, the Erard piano company shipped an instrument from Paris for use during Liszt’s recitals. It was sold afterwards for a considerable price to a certain M. Baltagi, who wanted it as a present for his fiancée. Franz Liszt left the city on 13 July.

Liszt wrote the Grande Paraphrase de la Marche de Giuseppe Donizetti for Abdul-Medjid, and dedicated to him. It is based on a march by Giuseppe Donizetti, the older brother of the more famous Gaetano. Giuseppe had founded the court orchestra Mizikay-i Hümayun. Liszt’s reworking of the tune is big, gutsy and – to be honest – quite over the top. I love it! It deserves to be better known. It is no wonder that the Sultan approved.

Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor de Donizetti, always popular, are based on the final sextet of Act II of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera. Starting quietly, the piece deploys arpeggios, cadenzas, trills, tremolos, scales in thirds and complex runs, developing into a dazzling display of technical wizardry.

Carl Maria von Weber’s Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) is the first concert waltz (as opposed to music written for dancers in waltz time). It has retained its popularity for over 200 years. Written as a rondo, it has become a model for countless other compositions. The liner notes remind us that the music “recounts aspects of the meeting, dance, and finally the farewell of a young couple at a ball”. Despite its fame, it never sounds hackneyed. It is given a remarkable performance here. We do not know if Liszt souped it up when he performed it in Istanbul.

Liszt played one of Frédéric Chopin’s Mazurkas during his tour, but it is not known which one. Zeynep Ucbasaran has chosen Mazurka in B minor, op. 33 No. 4, composed in 1838. This lovely example is formulated as a little rondo.

The Introduction et Polonaise de l’opera I Puritani de Bellini is full of the joy and happiness that reflects the moment when Elvira obtained consent from her father to wed Arturo. This piece is derived from the longer Réminiscences des Puritains. It makes an ideal encore.

Liszt’s re-imagining of the eldritch Erlkönig by Schubert is one of great war-horses of romantic piano music. Just looking at the “unplayable” sheet music is scary. The liner notes are correct in stating that this transcription “shows the musical heights the solo piano is capable of reaching”.

Once again, it is not possible to know which of Liszt’s Magyar dalok (Hungarian Melodies) were played during this tour. He wrote eleven examples of these folk-tunes. Zeynep Ucbasaran has chosen three numbers from the first volume. To be honest, I find them a little dull and lugubrious.

The final work on this disc, the Réminiscences de Norma de Bellini, Grande Fantaisie, was written in 1841. Leslie Howard has defined it as having the “ability to capture the essence of the operatic drama in a new structure”. The music explores seven themes from the opera. It creates a remarkable synthesis between the emotional impact of Bellini’s masterpiece and all the creative potential of the Romantic piano. It is a long work, but the interest never wavers. Sacheverell Sitwell once declared it to be “a perfect example of Liszt’s method”. Zeynep Ucbasaran gives it a splendid performance.

It is important to note that the recording was made in 2012. The music was originally broadcast live by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to all of Europe, with the collaboration of Turkish Radio and Television (TRT). It was part of the Franz Liszt 200th birthday celebrations during October 2011. The same material was also performed “to great acclaim” in Hungary, in the Liszt Museum in Budapest and the Béla Bartók Hall in Miskolc.

The liner notes are excellent. The main text is helpfully divided into two parts. The first sets the scene and provides the context, the second discusses the music. There are several historical illustrations, including a concert programme, a sheet music cover, and the certificate of the medal with diamonds (Nişan-ı İftihar, Order of Glory) given to Liszt by Sultan Abdul-Medjid. The CD cover features the old Çırağan Palace in Beşiktaş, in the first half of 19th century, and the back cover shows the Grande Rue de Pera (İstiklal Avenue), Constantinople taken in the late 19th century. There is a short biography of the Turkish pianist.

I enjoyed this CD, and I found the concept appealing. It seems a great idea to try to recreate a historical recital or concert. Liszt performed in many places, and gave a multitude of concerts. He is known to have toured Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, France, England, Poland, Rumania, Russia. and Turkey, amongst other countries. Programmes and adverts of these concerts exist but it is often the case that there are no exact titles. For example, as noted above, one flyer lists “A Chopin Mazurka”: there are 58 to choose from.

I hope that Zeynep Ucbasaran will continue her exploration of Liszt and his concerts. I look forward to reviewing her subsequent recitals.

John France

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Grande Paraphrase de la Marche de Giuseppe Donizetti composée pour Sa Majesté le Sultan Abdul-Medjid Khan, S.403 (1847) [8:06]
Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor de Donizetti, S.397 (1840) [6:31]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance), Rondo brillant in D-flat major, Op 65 (1819) [9:15]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4 (1838) [6:41]
I Puritani, Introduction et Polonaise de l’opéra de Bellini, S.391 (1840) [5:46]
Erlkönig, S.558 after Schubert (1838) [4:43]
Magyar dalok (Hungarian Melodies) (1839-40): Lento [4:09]
Andantino [1:18]
Sehr langsam [2:07]
Réminiscences de Norma de Bellini, Grande Fantaisie S.394 (1841) [18:00]

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