LISZT: 9 Soirees de Vienne (after SCHUBERT) – Gabriela Imreh, piano – Arabesque Z6805, 74:37 ****:
This disc is a reissue of a 1998 Connoisseur Society recording from producer Alan Silver. Ms. Imreh plays on a Yamaha instrument with a sweet ringing tone the nine waltzes or valses-caprices that have their basis in the long strings of German Dances and assorted laendler by Franz Schubert. No. 3 besides luxuriating in the lilting melodies suddenly breaks off into a series of virtuoso runs in octaves, fleet and richly percussive in the best sense. Liszt takes his usual liberties, adding new introductions when necessary or transposing some tunes to new registers.
The No. 4 (Andantino a Capriccio) proves startling because of its quick allusion to Beethoven’s E-flat Sonata, Op. 31, No. 3; then it gravitates directly to Vienna for a series of liquid romps alternately lyrical and quasi-aggressive. The thicker textures recall both Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy and Liszt’s own heroic treatment of that virtuosic piece for piano and orchestra. No. 5 (Moderato Cantabile con Affetto) enters with disarming simplicity, then liquid tremolos and shaded runs open a world of improvisatory three-hand effects. The rustic bagpipe ostinato pattern more than once recalls Chopin’s F Minor Ballade but the treatment is entirely more rhapsodic. The Soiree No. 6 (Allegro con Strepito) served Vladimir Horowitz as a vehicle for nostalgia and bravura at once. From clamor and self-assertion the music moves to intimate recollection of tender embraces. The writing waxes muscular and plastic simultaneously, the little supple kernels of melody fluctuating in suave rubato.
The Soiree No. 7 is among the briefest: it offers two German Dances almost exactly as Schubert set them originally, the second the more lilting of the two. Then the Liszt application of harmonic gorgeousness reharmonizes these two waltzes with various shimmering effects and pearly syncopations. That the spirit of Liebestraume seems nigh is no accident. A duet emerges in baritone and soprano register, the coda dissolving, pianissimo, into rills awash in pastels. No. 8 (Allegro con Brio) remains the largest of the set, opening with military largesse in six beats like a Chopin polonaise. Double octaves fly by just for the sheer energy of expression. The melodic tissue skips among various registers in quick succession, then takes on some metric variation, often verging on mazurka-rhythm. The melodies keep rolling out in brilliant pageantry, a fount of invention that glides and slides its way into our collective cornucopia. Imreh finishes with the No. 9 (Preludio a Capriccio), the most “conservative” of the set, meaning conformity to a traditional theme-and-variations and coda on a sole waltz theme. The waltz itself is a descending scale that Liszt quickly transposes into shifting registers, fluttering arpeggios, and modal progressions, later finding the dark Gothic side to the music’s many-sided persona. This was Imreh’s second published solo album, and she wanted Liszt that resounds with personality and originality–in these setting of Schubert she found both.