LISZT: Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H; Les Cloches de Geneve; Grosses Konzertsolo; Gianes de Woronince – Ballade Ukraine; Apres un lecture du Dante; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 “Le Carnaval de Pesth”; La Lugubre Gondoloa No. 1 – Misha Dacic, piano – Piano Classics PCL0048, 70:55 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Serbian Pianist Misha Dacic (b. 1978), honoring the Liszt bi-centennial, recorded this rather dark program 21 December 2011 at the Amaturo Theater, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, having been invited to participate at the Miami International Piano Festival Marathon Series. Dacic opens with a most uncompromising rendition of the Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H (1855; rev. 1870), a massive and stentorian work that contrapuntally celebrates the great Weimar master while adding Liszt’s own gothic textures and tumultuous ecstasies. Dacic takes a guided-missile approach, having fixed his trajectory at the outset, and then percussively driving the chorale theme through the wild chromatic foliage that often obscures the essentially arioso nature of the sentiment. A colossal but severe experience, it leaves us shaken, if not stirred.
A decided about-face occurs immediately: with the lovely Les Cloches de Geneve from the Swiss Year of Pilgrimage, the piano regains its silken and glassy possibilities: the “internal impressions of Nature. . .evoked profound emotions within my soul. . .the vague but direct affinity was established betwixt them and myself a realm though indefinable understanding, a sure but inexplicable means of communication,” proffered Liszt. The score contains a caption from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage of Byron, bearing the conceit that the poet’s soul fuses with his natural surroundings. We must assume that much of Dacic’s sympathy for this piece derives from his studies with another arch-Lisztian, Lazar Berman.
The Grosses Konzertsolo (1849) invokes the political turmoil of the Revolutionary period in Hungary against the Hapsburg Empire. Like the more noted Funerailles, the piece demands endless tremolos and mixed-agogic accents, as well as runs that well recall the throes of the Dante Symphony or the symphonic poem Mzeppa. The tempest lasts some 16 minutes in one continuous movement, so it plays as a study for the B Minor Sonata. Lofty declamations sweep us into volcanic eddies of sound; then, just as abruptly, there are sweet eulogies, nocturnal reminiscences of bygone days. Dacic’s parlando style and sliding trill recommend themselves to this demanding piece, the filigree often recalling the bridge passages in the two piano concertos. The power of the block chords in lusty chromatic harmony warrants our price of admission. Gianes de Woronince – Ukrainian Ballade exploits gypsy tunes and Russian folk tunes at once, adding to Liszt’s virtuoso piano arsenal his penchant for the Hungarian gypsy scale. The delicate, transparent, often legato filigree could be construed as by early Chopin or Henselt. Essentially a love song, the music occasionally descends into that emotion’s demonic possibilities.
The infernal raptures of D Minor open the 1849 Dante Sonata, from the Second Year of Pilgrimage. After a series of planned hesitations – likely so we can read the inscription over the Gate of Hell – Dacic releases the emotional floodgates and permits all pandemonium to break loose. The insistent tritone reminds us of the diabolerie of the occasion; but after the storms, we perhaps glimpse Francesca and Paolo in their straits of tormented love. Dacic permits himself the full complement of ritards and rubati to insinuate Liszt’s erotic liquid capacities, moving ineluctably to the F-sharp Major of Divine Love. As convulsive and passionate a rendition of the Dante Sonata as I’ve heard, this performance ranks with the Liszt we admire and crave from the late Gyorgy Cziffra.
The 1853 Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 in E-flat Major “The Carnival at Pesth,” has a splendid recording history that even embraces a youthful Emil Gilels. With its frequent imitations of gypsy, strummed melody in the cimbalom, Dacic’s willful keyboard performance canter s and reels in glorious homage to Bacchus, the eddies of sound drunken in their colossal freedom of movement. The series of bravura variants that Dacic impels towards us dazzle the ear with their clever colors and harmonic shifts, the accents biting and monumental, at once. Each of the musical periods stands alone and in relation to the preceding materials, the whole gathering momentum as it absorbs the tunes from prior sections in a fierce amalgam interrupted by those willful caesuras Dacic relishes.
With the last piece we have one more momento mori, Le Lugubre Gondola a reminiscence of the passing of composer Richard Wagner. Why Dacic should choose to meditate on death and mortality after his explosive Hungarian Rhapsody makes us, like Ambrose Bierce, ponder that “in the midst of life we are in death.” The thoughtful swirls and colors of the City of Lagoons leave us haunted rather than elevated, and we seek from our library that dusty tome of Poe’s tales to borrow his images of the Red Death. [Can’t see reference to that Liszt selection without thinking of the announcer who introduced The Lousy Gondolier…Ed.]