Brendel plays Liszt – Studio Recordings, 1955 – 1958 – Pristine Audio

by | Mar 23, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Brendel plays LISZT = Works by Weber, Wagner, Verdi, Liszt – Alfred Brendel, piano – Pristine Audio PAKM 090 (79:25, complete listing of content below) [] *****:

As early as 1948 Alfred Brendel featured the music of Franz Liszt in a program he called “The Fugue in Piano Literature.” Like his German idol, pianist Wilhelm Kempff, Brendel (b. 1931) bears a healthy respect for Liszt’’s multifarious accomplishments; and, as this assemblage from Vox recordings, 1955-1958, certifies, Brendel has imbibed a significant range of the Liszt oeuvre. Restoration editor and engineer Andrew Rose has enhanced the Vox original sonic production via his patented XR process, so that the Ambient Stereo effect offers these Brendel realizations to their optimum advantage.

Brendel opens with his March 1955 reading of Liszt’s Cantique d’Amour from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III, a ravishing nocturne in E Major. The melody rises and spreads in romantic harmony, its sensibility close a combination of the famous Liebestraum and the third of the Consolations. Brendel imbues the piece with resonant colors, degrees of light and shade, and the emotional intensity in block chords that accords a depth of sincerity we do not always associate with Liszt.

The Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude rises immediately from a watery context  to a religious celebration of Lamartine’s poetry, the marking sempre cantando dominating Brendel’s affecting realization. Liszt’s chosen key of F# Major most often signifies his seeking after transcendence, as it infiltrates his Dante Sonata as well. The middle section, with its three-note motto, achieves a serenity that rises and falls in various registers, and then moves to a kind of extended, nocturnal epilogue. Again, the chorale theme blends with the watery figuration to produce an impressionistic stretto that well may have influenced the likes of Debussy and Ravel. Brendel’s breathed phrases, his dramatic pulse and intuition, prove mesmeric and convincing in music we long ago assigned to Bolet, Arrau, and Cziffra for definition.

The Funérailles, the 1849 lament, simultaneously, for fallen Hungarian heroes and for the recently deceased Chopin, has had much ink spilled on renditions by noted pianists, included Horowitz. Brendel brings his own powerful gravitas to bear, along with a formidable technique to render the middle-section, polonaise-driven gallop with a frightful resolve. The tender reminiscence that occurs, too, after a funeral march in F Minor, lagrimoso in A-flat, savors Brendel’s thoughtful discretion, never descending into morbid treacle. A rich keyboard palette has here found a broad canvas for recollections of heroism, national and intensely personal.

For me, the a true gem appears in the form of Liszt’s transcription Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon Overture, a true tour de force in “symphonic” style. Brendel’s 1958 recording enjoys a pungent clarity and persuasiveness of phrase we expect in the orchestral renderings from Jochum and Lehmann. Brendel’s upper register literally bites into the trains of runs and cascading octaves, while his staccatos capture the magical element in Shakespeare’s woodland satyr. Recall Oberon’s haunted personification from actor Victor Jory in the Max Reinhardt movie? Brendel’s bass tones in the development section could inspire whole armies to march, followed by an intricate and plastic fugato. This spectacular display of old-world bravura brings the berries and will likely lead off a radio tribute to Brendel

Verdi’s Miserere (1958) from Il Trovatore sounds from the depths of the keyboard, and only requires Zinka Milanov’s voice to complete the effect. The 1859 piece derives from Verdi’s opera, Act IV, and it moves from plaintive mourning to a florid and dance-like waltz tempo. Brendel alternately caresses and bombards the occasion, again aiming at maximum, symphonic power. The coda, a mixture of cascades and runs, thunders and then, recitative permitting, closes in a heightened apotheosis. The blatant theme of love and death finds us, inevitably, in the throes (rec. 1958) of Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s love-death from Tristan, although some pianists prefer the treatment by Moritz Moszkowski. Nothing ambivalent, however, marks Brendel’s passionate realization, which builds to a mighty climax and dissolves into a nocturne that allow the thumbs to cross.

The two Petrarch sonnets (rec. 1957) each receive a sympathy and romantic evocation worthy of the poet and his beloved Laura, as well Liszt’s own appreciation the poetic conceits they inspire. Brendel’s selective pedal requires some appreciation, as he negotiates the melodic allure of each the sonnets. The three-note theme and its echo in No. 47 (1846; rev. 1883) becomes a rich and elaborate tapestry in Liszt’s embroidered style. Brendel takes a brisk tempo to open No. 104, the most often performed of the Petrarch triptych. But as the music bears the opposed conceits of the text, its fire and ice, the tempo broadens, slows down and assumes an elegant fioritura that only increases the passion.

Brendel closes with two of the 1851 Paganini Etudes, conceived directly in response to Paganini’s Caprices, Op. 1. The No. 2 in E-flat Major, Andante capriccioso, is taken from the No. 17 in the original set. Its martial tenor breaks off to allow Liszt and Brendel to demonstrate some prowess in octaves. No less daunting are Brendel’s glissandos and trills. On blind hearing, I would bet auditors would ascribe this performance to Cziffra. The oft-rendered No. 3, La Campanella in G# Minor, thrusts the repeated notes of the little bells at us with startling clarity. Brendel’s tone projects the chiseled marble of our friend Buonarotti, with the requisite ease of bravura. Brendel’s uppermost register in trills must have been cast in asbestos!  For those who prefer to consider Alfred Brendel the staid practitioner of the Classical piano realm, this album should provide the shock of recognition. Highly recommended.

—Gary Lemco

Brendel plays LISZT

Sonetto No. 47 and Sonetto No. 104 after Petrarch;
Grandes Etudes de Paganini: Nos 2 and 3 (La Campanella)
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III, S. 173:
No. 10 Cantique d’Amour;
No. 3 Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude;
No. 7 Funérailles;
WEBER (trans. Liszt): Overture to Oberon;
VERDI (arr. Liszt): Il Trovatore: Miserere du Trovatore;
WAGNER (arr. Liszt): Isoldes Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde;


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