LISZT: Symphonic Poems – Herbert Von Karajan/ Ferenc Fricsay / Stanislav Macura / Rafael Kubelik – Praga Digitals 

LISZT: Symphonic Poems = Les Preludes; Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo; Mazeppa; Die Ideale – RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Berlin/ Ferenc Fricsay/ Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Stanislav Macura/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan/ Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Rafael Kubelik – Praga Digitals SACD PRD 350 124, 79:59 (7/7/17) [Distr. Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Four Liszt symphonic poems receive masterful treatment in sonically stirring restoraton.

At least two of these four performances of Liszt symphonic poems have consistently granted me extreme musical satisfaction and an airing on my radio program, “The Music Treasury”: the September 1956 reading of the 1854 Les Preludes by Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963), and the September 1960 performance of Mazeppa by Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989). The Fricsay Les Preludes (after Lamartine) testifies to the Hungarian maestro’s astonishing, fluid rhythmic flexibility. After the fateful fanfares in the trombones, the RIAS strings exhibit a grand, operatic line suggestive of “the wounded human soul’s endeavor to find solace in Nature.” The sectional, periodic structure of the piece flows seamlessly in quasi sonata-form, only to return to its heroic brass invocation, aided by the tuba.

The Symphonic Poem No. 6 Mazeppa (1851) derives from a poem by Victor Hugo devoted to Lithuanian folk hero Ivan Mazeppa, whose love affair with a Polish princess resulted in his being tied naked to a horse which ran wild to the Ukraine, where Mazeppa found refuge with the Cossacks. Karajan had honed his Berlin Philharmonic into a smoothly-stropped and unified instrument, whose brass section, particularly the trumpet, exhibits nothing less than wizardry in the triple-tongued sections of the score, particularly the Tatar march. Swooping gestures, whiplash attacks, and heroic sound contribute to a thrilling ride in every respect.

I had not known the work of conductor Stanislav Macura (b. 1946), but his reading of the 1854 Tasso – Lament and Triumph (after Byron) projects a strong sense of ensemble if somewhat limited by a relatively literalist approach, radically different than the free-wheeling revel from Bruno Maderna in Turin, 17 September 1967 (on the Yves St Laurent label YSL T464). Poet Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) – often compared I talent to Dante – suffered from chronic depression and had been institutionalized (in Ferrara), and his eventual liberation (in Rome) has its heroic element in Liszt’s brilliant orchestration.

The 1857 Symphonic Poem No. 11 Die Ideale takes its cue from Schiller, and its epic scope has a handsome reading from Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) and the Bavarian Radio-Symphony (9 May 1974). The unveiling of a monument to Schiller and Goethe provided the impetus for this wide-ranging one-movement exercise in musical development of a few co-ordinated themes. The rhapsodic, often vehement presentation of themes might well have influenced Mahler, given the ardent yet economic nature of the materials.

–Gary Lemco

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