Recorded 20-22 December 2004 on the Steinway D-274, this all-Liszt recital must be pianist Markus Groh’s Christmas present to himself and to his beloved Liszt. If his publicity means anything, Groh resembles a younger Christoph Eschenbach, with the tiger’s temperament and fingers to spare. His mastery over the Liszt rhetoric quite sweeps one away; this, despite the spate of Liszt Sonata recordings to have glutted the market. Attentive to all of Liszt’s demands for ppp staccatissimo or cantando espessivo, Groh invokes all of the piano’s capacity either to caress and to pulverize one into submission. Quite conscious of Liszt’s transformational processes, Groh takes great care to emphasize the harmonic rhythm of the piece, its capacities for vertical as well as dynamic fury.
The BACH Fantasy takes us into the grumbling depths, along with sweeping double octaves and arpeggios on a colossal scale. While the B Minor Sonata enjoys a paradoxical realization of ecstatic intimacy, the BACH Fantasy makes public a system of harmonic labyrinths which clearly point to the Busonian, contrapuntal ideal. Combining bravura with an obsessive chromaticism and crossing of hands, the piece emerges as a massive, even martial toccata in organ style, with upper register repeated notes which make La Campanella seem child’s play.
For the ultimate in morbid obsession, the paraphrase on the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass [Doesn’t Rachmaninoff get more morbid with that theme, more than once?…Ed.], even played as a virtuoso solo piece, still manages a vehement symphonic texture in Surround Sound. Horn punctuations, tympanic throbbing, even an attempt at woodwind colors permeates Groh’s effective performance, a real three-handed invocation. The fugal elements are played misterioso, even religioso, a brilliant filigree marcatissimo, equating the figure of the Grim Reaper with the Eternal Feminine, shades of Rachmaninov. Groh’s ability to make liquid Liszt is notable as well, suggesting that the Villa d’Este and Au bord d’un source pieces should be close on his must-record list. Groh is a pianist well worth keeping an ear out for.
— Gary Lemco