LISZT: New Discoveries, Vol. 4 [complete list of compositions below] – Leslie Howard, piano – Hyperion CDA68247, 74:35 (9/28/18) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Recorded 8-9 November 2017, the works here performed by Leslie Howard complement the 2011 set by Hyperion of 99 compact discs issued in honor of the Liszt bicentenary. As Howard explores the slew of original Liszt manuscripts, various miscellany emerge in various hands and on diverse manuscript paper: in this case, Howard and cataloguer Michael Short, examining archives in Weimar, have unearthed a series of pieces Liszt calls Reves et fantasies, of which the most ambitious work, the elaborate, even meandering, Ungarische Rhapsodien No. 23 (1847) appears the longest and most important. Besides demonstrating the usual military and improvisatory motifs and structures of the ensuing Rhapsodies, this piece serves as a kind of template: a long meditation yields to a brisker (friss) sections rife with high-octave glitter and sonorous syncopations.  The second part offers tremolo passages Liszt marks Nebelbild (fog-vision), as if in poetic sympathy with the famous painting by Friedrich that stands for the Byronic, lonely wanderer, a motif Schubert exploits in his Heine-based lied, “Die Stadt.”

Liszt composed his brief Preludio funebre in 1885, later to be expanded into the Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch.
The Italian-titled work first came to publication in 1927.  Its darkly dissonant chords all but proclaim the piece to be by Mussorgsky.  Howard plays the first, revised version (December 1882) of La lugubre gondola, a sad, parlando-laden recollection of the Venice which would soon claim the life of Richard Wagner in 1883. Howard includes a rather shabby work, the Buelow-Marsch of 1883, in its first draft. Perhaps meant as a tribute to the conductor Hans von Buelow, Liszt’s son-in-law, the manuscript lies in chaos, incorrectly numbered and lacking musical transitions. Howard claims “the lyrical theme… reminds us that this… very fine composer [is] having a bad day at the office!”

The revised version of Dem Andenken Petofis (1877) surfaced relatively recently, and it contains two new closing passages other than the final version of 1885. Howard incorporates both for this memorial piece for Sandor Petofi. The melodic line, a chromatic combination of recitative and parlando, has a Wagnerian hue. The Den Schutz-Engein, first version (1877), treats the tender Angelus that will contribute to his Years of Pilgrimage.  The Cypresses of the Villa d’Este (1877) forms a lyrical elegy also from the third book of the Annees de pelerinage.  The restraint in the climactic section marks the major alteration here in Liszt’s thinking. Liszt reworked his Mephisto Waltz No. 1 several times in the 1860s, and the present Album-Leaf appears in the middle section, serving as both a transition, new introduction and coda to this central, lyrical episode. In 1863 Liszt wrote an “official” transcription of the Danse des sylphes from the Berlioz dramatic oratorio, Le damnation de Faust.  Liszt found the first, engraver’s copy faulty, and so dismissed what, as presented here by Howard, delights us in its music-box transparency!

Portrait Franz LisztThe most substantial piece on this fascinating recital lies in what Howard calls “a marvelous torso” called Maometto II de Rossini, a treatment (1839) -whether reminiscence or transcription—of the opera Risponda a te primiero. Liszt takes the four-square chorus from Act I and elaborates on its martial gait with decorative filigree over a staid tempo. In one large section with a conclusion, the piece breaks off for no apparent reason, what Howard calls “a curious distraction from this otherwise splendid piece.” Howard then engages five album-leaves that date 1840-1870, the first of which proffers harmonic progression (in E-flat Major) from the Dante Sonata, here correcting the lack of B-flats in the fair copies. Schubert’s famous Ave Maria has a quotation (1841) in the form of a coda Liszt suppressed.
The so-called Dublin album-leaf of 1840 offers a brief theme of 17 seconds. Liszt set a text by Schiller for a cantata in praise of artists, and the two album leaves of 1870 sound virtually identical.

Two early, student pieces appear: c. 1829 the sketchbook contains a Largo and a second piece that quotes from Lammennais, whose melancholy impressed Liszt. Several commentators claim the Klavierstuecke in E-flat minor serves as a first draft for the lovely Consolation No. 3. The immediate similarities cannot be denied: but the meter and harmonic color prove quite distinct. With its similarity to the trio section of Verdi’s Aida march, the 1870 Kavallerie-Geschwindmarsch—the score discovered in New Zealand by Michael Short—proves a percussive potboiler whose intent must be capricious. Howard thinks the piece might be a transcription of some regimental band opus by Pezzini, but we must respect the composer, whatever his whims.  Piano sound, courtesy of Producer Rachel Smith and Engineer Ben Connellan, remains pungently first-rate.

LISZT: New Discoveries, Vol. 4 =
Magyar Rapszodiak No. 23 in C-sharp minor
Preludio funebre
La lugubre gondola – second draft
Buelow-Marshc
Dem Andenken Petofis
Angelus – first version
Denb Zypressen der Vila d’Este – first version
Album-Leaf ‘Aus dem Mephisto-Walzer’
Danse des sylphs from The Damnation of Faust
Maometto II de Rossini – Fantasie
Album-Leaf ‘Dusseldorf Preludio’
Album-Leaf ‘Ave Maria’
Album-Leaf ‘Dublin’
Album-Leaf ‘An die Kuenstler I’
Album-Leaf ‘An die Kuenstler II’
Largo in B minor
Essai sur l’indifference
Klavierstuecke in E-flat minor
Kavallerie-Geschwindmarsch

—Gary Lemco