LISZT: Don Juan Fantasy; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor; Funerailles; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in E Minor; Hunnenschlacht (trans. Cameron); Valse oubliee No. 1; Les Preludes (trans. Cameron) – Matthew Cameron, piano – Cala CACD88045, 72:41 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Matthew Cameron–an Agustin Anievas protégé–plays the “Liszt card” with a decided vengeance, sporting long thin hair and the concert pose we know from various Romantic portraits of Liszt. Recorded in 2006 on the Steinway CD385, the recital emulates aspects of Liszt’s own performance persona, featuring original keyboard works and orchestral works arranged for solo-piano bravura. The more audacious of the latter transcriptions, the symphonic poems Les Preludes and The Slaughter of the Huns, elicit “orchestral” expositions from Cameron who coaxes, slams, and caresses the keyboard as required. The depiction of the 5th Century battle between Christians and Huns after Kaulbach’s painting showers us with splendid polyphonic effects and wild runs, the warriors taking their assaults to the heavens in the midst of a Christian hymn. Les Preludes, after Lamartine, likewise thrusts a fierce storm section at us after some pageantry in the low and middle registers. Liszt himself would tour the minor villages and venues of Hungary, playing opera and orchestral works on the keyboard with a similar sense of mission.
The opening Don Juan Fantasy (1841; rev. 1873) casts Lisztian intentions on Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni in paraphrase, inverting the dramatic order so that the Don concludes with his Champagne Aria. Those who recall the impressive inscription by Charles Rosen for Epic forty years ago may find some similarities in Cameron’s concept, which projects witty introspection as well as demonic self-assurance. The La ci darem la mano aria and variants cavort with seduction and detached irony, while the Commendatore’s scene music reminds us of the Don’s eventual blasphemy and dire fate. Cameron moves through the work’s bravura challenges with a facility born of experience and natural panache.
The two Hungarian Rhapsodies, those in A Minor and E Minor, present two sides of Liszt’s flamboyant personality, that which embraced a bombastic gypsy style and that which aspired to Romantic ardor and cosmic passion. The Steinway instrument in the A Minor Rhapsody projects a more sec, dry sound than in the Don Juan Fantasy, perhaps a deliberately restrained color that Cameron desires. When he applies the cimbalom effects, they can thrill, though not so startlingly as has Levitzky accomplished two generations ago. For the more bravura splashes, however, Cameron equals anyone who champions Liszt. The more funereal E Minor Rhapsody exploits modal scales and ardent melancholy in beguiling periods.
The 1849 Funerailles celebrates fallen heroes and even more the spirit of Chopin. Alternating between a somber F Minor and a lovely A-flat theme marked arioso, the music parallels Liszt’s own symphonic poem on Tasso–Lament and Triumph. Funeral bells and trumpet fanfares proceed in sad panoply, only to yield to left hand octaves lifted directly from Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53. The demand for staccatissimo chords at the conclusion jars one into an abrupt awareness of the finality of death. The petite Valse oubliee No. 1 (1881) seems a fond recollection of youth, akin to Jean-Pierre Roche’s novel Jules et Jim, a smiling resuscitation of wild abandon and smoldering dalliance, in which the damper pedal evokes a hazy and sultry atmosphere of treasured delights.