TITANIC OPERATIC LIZST
Hyperion end this mini series of operatic Lizstian works with a bombshell
selection that promises to hold the listener for hours on end, such is the
variety and excellence of these operatic transcriptions. 'La fiancée'
is perhaps quite unknown but Lizst's devilish transcription of it has one
completely mesmerized by the intrinsic melodies and dashing wizardry that
are the main characteristics of the opera transcriptions. 'Ernani' is obviously
much more famous and the Verdian melodies find suitable scope in such keyboard
expression although I'm not sure that Howard's is the last word on this piece.
An interesting unpublished version of Meyerbeer's 'Les Huguenots' is even
more enticing and contains a better arrangement than the previous versions,
something which is espoused in Howard's scholarly notes. Another 'extra'
version of Bellini's 'La Sonnambula' appears here and one can only marvel
at the height of Lizst's inspiration and capability in making such music
sound so utterly pianistic. There is also Russian charm and a sense of joie
de vivre in the 'Russlan' transcription. The 'Valse et Caprice' contains
elements of Lizst's better style, all fused into such a charming whole that
I was almost singing the tunes after a few repeated listens. Howard's marvelous
playing adds to the excitement and virility of the piece.
This brings us to the inimitable arrangement of Wagner's 'Tannhauser' Overture.
It is quite amazing to realize how such a vividly orchestral work can sound
so incredibly beautiful in a pianistic guise. Howard's slow tempo adds to
to the grandeur and nobility of the piece, thus creating an unforgettable
sensation in the middle of the Pilgrim's Chorus theme and the headlong rush
into the final chords. After such fireworks, the somewhat overlong and
occasionally boorish melodies of 'I Puritani' may seem to sound cheap by
comparison but repeated listening will make one appreciate this titanic music
much more. At times it seems that these arrangements rather grow on you!
The final two works on disc are truly gargantuan in their range and scope
of expression. It is tantamount to artistic suicide to learn that the Weber
fantasy on 'Der Freischutz' is unpublished. Such is the wealth of Lizst's
hugely inspirational writing and brilliant treatment of the main themes from
this opera, that one could almost sit as in a trance just letting the piano
sink into one's senses! Howard throws everything into the piece, his
double-stops, pedaling and harmonic fireworks are truly spellbinding, one
almost imagines the fire of Lizst himself at the keyboard. I would single
this piece as one of the major discoveries in this splendid series.
'Reminiscences de La Scala' is an artistic pot-boiler, full of some wonderful
Latin warmth and melody although ultimately one can see Lizst as a bit of
a vulgar critic here. He was obviously using the Milanese for his virtuoso
display and one can understand why it has remained unpublished, also probably
due to the demise of Mercadante and a host of other unknown names from the
dusty season of La Scala in 1837. Leslie Howard's playing throughout the
volume is as consistent as always, that is quite superb at all times. A worthy
conclusion to the Lizst at the Opera series and another jewel in Hyperion's
legendary series dedicated to the greatest pianist/composer of all time.