Daniel Wayenberg plays LISZT – Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Funerailles from Harmonies poetiques; Two Legends – Forgotten Records

by | Dec 21, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

LISZT: Mephisto Waltz No. 1 “Dance at the Village Inn”; Funerailles from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses; Two Legends – Daniel Wayenberg, piano – Forgotten Records FR 2093 (45:13) [www.forgottenrecords.com] ****:

Dutch pianist Daniel Wayenberg (1929-2019) was noted for the breadth of his repertory, which often served him when other pianists cancelled concerts, and he had to substitute at short notice. Both Pristine and Forgotten Records have restored selected, commercial performances by Wayenberg, complementing the occasional issue of his work on the defunct TAHRA label.  This Liszt recital, taken from Ducretet-Thomson, dates from 1955, and although relatively brief, contains some passionately idiomatic Liszt playing. 

Wayenberg opens with a suavely rendered Mephisto Waltz No. 1 in A (1859), the programmatic keyboard work written in response to a verse play, Faust (1836) by Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850). Subtitled “The Dance at the Village Inn,” the bravura piece depicts Faust and Mephistopheles’ having entered a tavern in which a peasant, wedding dance is in progress. Mephistopheles snatches a violin from a rustic player and proceeds to mesmerize all the company with his dazzling technique. Faust himself 2seizes one of the town’s beauties for himself, dancing her into the forest, where “an orgy of lust” will ensue. At the end, calm returns a nightingale sings of Nature’s beauty. The amorous, highly syncopated waltz is celebrated by American critic James Huneker as one of the most voluptuous moments after Wagner’s Tristan.   

Wayenberg, besides having mastered the more demonic elements in the piece, its ravishing runs and massive octaves, its imitation of the Paganini violin, bariolage technique, invests a palpable intimacy into the episode, before quite exploding in astounding bravura that rival what we expect from Horowitz, Arrau, Bolet, and Cziffra. The speed of articulation in the prestissimo passages warrants repeated hearings. Bel canto and jeu perle molding of phrases become as much a part of the realization as any “vocal” aspect of Chopin’s oeuvre. 

Portrait Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt

Wayenberg turns to the seventh work in Liszt’s collection Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, Funerailles (1849), a four-section lament conceived simultaneously for the death of Frederic Chopin and the bitter failure of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution and the subsequent death of dear friends. The opening, funereal peals of the Introduzione – Adagio, pesante and sempre marcato sound a bit like the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass, bitter and emotionally severe. A dire quietude falls upon the progress, its Hungarian melody over a dry accompaniment sounding like a recitative from tragic Gluck. Liszt juxtaposes the grim F Minor march against a heartbreaking lagrimoso set in A-flat Major. Suddenly, a Cossack march erupts, fully conscious of its martial similarity to Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise, in grand, galloping energies. Wayenberg’s girth and mass in the restatement of the lament, in pounding chords, rings with a subjective bitterness intertwined with tesknota, pained nostalgia. Wayenberg has the last page sigh and gasp, only to have the martial, left-hand octaves intrude upon his sad recollections.

Wayenberg alters the emotional demeanor of his recital drastically, engaging in the avian evocations of the first of the Deux Legendes (1863) that deal with episodes in the career of St, Francis. St. Francis of Assisi, walking with companions, pauses in his journey to behold trees on either side of the road, inhabited by flocks of birds, which Francis addresses as his “sisters.” His preaching beguiles the creatures, not one stirring from its branch. The brilliant piano figuration, set in the “transcendent” key of A Major, the flutterings and pipings, established a sound standard both for Ravel and Messaien, the latter a trained ornithologist. Once more, here in the “Bird Sermon,” Wayenberg proves his mastery of tonal color and dramatic pacing. A potent hymn arises in the bass and finds a delicate answer high in the trees, a hesitantly illuminated apotheosis. 

The second legend, that of St. Francis of Paola’s Walking on the Waves, depicts St. Francis’ having been refused passage by a boatman so as to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily, laid his cloak upon the waters, tying his cloak to an end of his staff to serve as a sail. Francis and his companions proceed to mount the cloak to sail together, following the boat. This motif closely resembles the Tolstoy story, “The Three Hermits.” Wayenbderg’s left hand realizes the power of the rushing waves, over which Francis and his entourage sail in chordal figures, as according to Liszt, Francis bears in his left hand burning coals, while his right hand gestures a blessing. In his steadfast gaze, Francis beholds a sign, Caritas, illuminated by a halo of light. The piece itself proves thunderous and ponderously didactic, insistent in its spiritual message, which Liszt closely associated with his name-saint. Wayenberg’s rendition resonates with the authority of the true believer. 

—Gary Lemco

More information available through Forgotten Records:

Album Cover for Wayenberg Plays Liszt

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