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LISZT: Bagatelle sans tonalite; Wiegenlied; Vierter Mephisto-Walzer; La lugubre gondola II;
Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort; En reve; Annees de pelerinage, troisieme annee – Cedric Tiberghien, piano – Hyperion CDA68202, 80:15 (2/1/19) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Recorded 5-7 December 2017, this Liszt recital merely confirms my recent impression of Tiberghien’s credentials in this music, given my having attended his marvelous rendition of the Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major under Francoise-Xavier Roth and the San Francisco Symphony on March 9, 2019.  The recital here on Hyperion falls into two distinct sections: a series of late works, c. 1885, and the third and final volume of the Years of Pilgrimage, 1866-1867.  The late pieces reveal Liszt the torch-bearer for the future, challenging both structure and tonality, setting a path that others, Scriabin, Ravel, and Schoenberg would follow, each in his own way.

The opening Bagatelle without Tonality presents an eerie, hazily defined world, in which fragments and small cluster convene and separate, only to conclude with a huge number, some 25, upwardly moving diminished seventh chords in crease in volume and leave us puzzled as to their, and our, fixed identity. The Wiegenlied, cradle-song, dates from 1881, but it appeared in print finally in 1958.  In three pages, the bell sounds chirp of innocence and beauty.  The so-called Fourth Mephisto-Waltz remains unfinished, although its impulse already arises in the aforementioned Bagatelle. La Lugubre gondola II proceeds with extensive death knolls in Venice, the venue for the passing of son-in-law, Richard Wagner, in 1883. Shapeless, modally ambiguous, and angular in rhythm, it strikes one for the “random” character of Death, even as the waters lull us into quiet submission. Poet Antonia Raab (1846-1902) inspired the nocturne Schloflos! Frage und Antwort – Sleepless! Question and Answer. Written in 1883 but published in 1927, the piece plays E minor against its tonic major. The ‘answer’ appears in bare chords, perhaps because the solution to life’s puzzle lies in simplicity.  En reve (1885) returns to the mesmerizing, melodic style of Liszt the Romantic, in which a melody appears over a broken chord figuration. Tiberghien’s upper registers – as in the Concerto performance – reign as his strong suit.

Sacred music held sway in Liszt’s mind during his third year of (Italian) pilgrimage.  The “Abbe Liszt” seems captivated by ‘intimations of mortality,’ especially focused at the Villa d’Este mansion in Tivoli, where Liszt could in seven pieces meditate on Nature and Time, far from his days as a touring, world-class virtuoso.  Angelus! Priere aux anges gardiens (1877) evolves in relatively subdued tones, despite its bell tones of Vespers in Rome that later do resound forcefully in scalar ascent and then retreat into gentle recollection.

Portrait Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt

Liszt follows with two Threnodies, or laments, each depicting the Cypresses, respectively, of the Villa d’Este and the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome. Cypresses often appear in Renaissance paintings associated with Christ, especially as the wood of the Cross.  The first of the Cypresses proves ungainly and tumultuous, releasing its melody in honor of the trees at the Villa d’Este, but rife with pain.  The second begins even more harmonically tortured in an extended lament twice the length of the former. When the anguish subsides, the glory of faith shines through in beguiling harmonies. Even so, the late pages inject a note of solemn meditation. The famous Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este has had its watery intricacies traced by many of the great Liszt interpreters, from Cziffra to Bolet. Here, courtesy of Tiberghien, the glorious “living waters” of the Gospels (of Saint John) appear in variegated swirls and traced eddies of sound, that source of “everlasting life” no less celebrated by Koechlin in his musical light show.

Sunt lacrymae rerum en mode hongrois (1872) refers to a line from Virgil’s Aeneid, the tears for the fall of Troy, but set in the manner of the Hungarian scale patterns we know from the piano rhapsodies, such as No. 6 in D-flat.  The dotted march rhythm – clearly marked as a Threnody – means to reflect on the Hungarian War for Independence of 1849.  A truly morbid moment erupts in Marche funebre (1867), set as grim homage to Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, executed by Benito Juarez (19 June 1867) and his revolutionary forces. The effect certainly echoes aspects of Chopin and the notable Funerailles; but to savor the event ‘pictorially,’ watch the cinematic recreation of Maximilian by actor Brian Aherne in Juarez, truly a devasting, sympathetic portrayal of a noble man betrayed by his own sense of duty. Tiberghien’s bare parlando and shuddering tremolando effects capture a mood of devastating emotional loss but possible apotheosis, since many crowned heads in Europe bewailed Maximilian’s fate.

The journey ends with Sursam corda (“Lift your hearts”), a piece from 1877, whose words preface the Mass. Tiberghien must execute any number of pedal points on E, moving in vaulting gestures into fff declamations written over four staves to ensure their ‘symphonic,’ grandioso effect, of which Tiberghien proves eminently capable.

The production team of Simon Eadon and Andrew Keener deserves special mention for this recording, faithful to Liszt’s – and Tiberghien’s – keyboard in every way. Their sense of “decay” in the final sounds and fermatas wins my respect evert time.

—Gary Lemco

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