A restored series of RIAS appearances by Jorge Bolet will delight and astound in his thorough grasp of the Liszt style.

LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Annees de Pelerinage, Deuxieme Annee: 3 Petrarch Sonnets; Overture to Tannhauser – Jorge Bolet, piano/ Radio Symphony-Orchestra Berlin/ Lawrence Foster/ Edo de Waart – Audite 97.738, 79:09 (1/19/18)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The Cuban piano virtuoso Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) enjoyed a special relationship with the music of Franz Liszt, his having been selected to supply the sound track for the 1960 motion picture Song Without End, in which Dirk Bogarde portrayed the legendary Hungarian musician.  Bolet traveled to Berlin and the RIAS studios several times between 1971 and 1982, and happily, his studio and concert performances have been preserved and here issued for the first time.

The familiar 1855 E-flat Concerto (30 November 1971) with Lawrence Foster, live, combines electric fluency and romantic girth, eagerly indulging the dialogue between the piano, individual instrumental colors, and the full complement of strings, brass and tympani.  After a blistering Allegro maestoso, the one movment work glides into an operatic Quasi Adagio in which Bolet’s keyboard exerts recitative figures, stentorian chords, and deciso flourishes that chromatically declaim the Hans von Bulow  “insinuation” that none of us truly understands this work. Gossamer trills from Bolet join the flute for the transition Allegretto vivace whose triangle and pizzicato strings long defined this concerto’s identity. The exuberance and plastic youth of this movement scampers across the keys, with a martial aura’s lying just below the surface. Allegro marziale animato, the original motif re-enters and cascades, with a mountain of clouds ready to explode into the trombones. Now the cymbals add to the color resolve of the brass, and Bolet surges and dances as he sees fit. Clarity and luxuriously cascading octaves mark the inexorable series of descending scales that will take us by half steps through the piano’s diapason to the jubilant finale. Wait until you hear that first, resounding “Bravo!”

The 1857 A Major Concerto (19 December 1982) with Edo de Waart, live, casts a singularly sensuous aura over the opening, which takes much of its initial inspiration from Weber’s model in the f minor Konzerstueck, along with influences from Litolff.  Like the E-flat Concerto, the A Major evolves from a single kernel that subdivides into six identifiable sections that engage in what Liszt called “transformation of theme.” The clarinet and cello have as much important roles in this work as does Bolet’s titanic keyboard. The keyboard part remains relatively subdued, in contrast to the flashy bravura of the First Concerto; and often, Bolet’s intimate, meditative playing remains us of the Liszt of the salon. The Allegro deciso portion might contain aspects of a Cuban dance, given its sashaying flux.  The full-blooded Marziale, un poco meno Allegro might have been scored as one of Liszt’s symphonic poems with piano obbligato, except that the orchestra relents to allow Bolet a quiet, solo interlude that soon evolves into an accompanied nocturne.  Quick figures initiate the Allegro animato, with intense, pizzicato figures and sweeping octaves reminiscent of the Totentanz. A grand march sweeps to a haughty, resolute coda rife with fire and more than a touch of brimstone.

The suite of Petrarch Sonnets and the Tannhauser Overture transcription derive from a studio session 8 October 1973. Liszt in 1861 re-cast earlier (1839) vocal arrangements of the Petrarch sonnets which he found too ornate and repetitive.  The Sonnet No. 47 (“Blessed be the Day”) has versions in A-flat Major and D-flat Major. The sonnet proper addresses the “many voices” of Laura, the poet’s beloved. The influence of operatic bel canto suffuses this and the other two sonnet-settings, much as this piano/vocal style merged with Chopin’s style. The Sonnet No. 104 (“Peace not found”) strikes a series of ardent, anguished climaxes, given its contrary ardors of fire and ice, torment and a yearning for release, self-loathing and love of another. Bolet basks in secure authority in this evocation of love’s contradictions. Sonnet 123 (“I beheld on Earth”) describes the poet’s vision of a heavenly consort inspired by Laura’s eyes and words alone that “have put the sun to shame.”  Delicacy of touch and a sustained sonic aura hold us in thrall as Bolet provides an emotional trajectory through a numinous vision in the form of a nocturne/ballade.

The Tannhauser Overture has had its supreme, keyboard exponents in Friedman and Moiseiwitsch, and Bolet joins their ranks. The “seduction” of Tannhauser to desert the Mount of Venus comes from passing pilgrims en route to Rome. The chromatic world of the Venusberg calls us to Tannhauser’s unhappy choice of a song for the competition, and, eventually, his sincere desire to atone and win the virtuous love of Elisabeth.  The heroic mode finds Bolet in stentorian form, invoking symphonic rushes of sound that traverse sensual self-indulgence and pristine spirituality. The sonic layering and stretti convince us that Bolet has many more than two hands at the keyboard. The Pilgrim’s Hymn returns after shattering runs, superimposed upon a recollection of past indulgences, now forgiven once the Papal staff sprouts its leaves.

—Gary Lemco