LISZT: Six Transcriptions of Polish Songs by Chopin; CHOPIN: Twelve Etudes, Op. 10; Twelve Etudes, Op. 25 – Luiza Borac, piano – Avie AV2161, 79:39 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Romanian pianist Luiza Borac pays homage (rec. 7-10 April 2008) to the late record producer and engineer John Barnes (1934-2008) by way of Liszt and Chopin, both of whom she has well in hand. Her rendition of excerpts from Chopin’s Op. 74 songs as transcribed by Liszt prove eminently vocal as well as virtuosic. The silken glissandi of The Maiden’s Wish evanesce and swirl; Spring invests us with a sensuously rocking patina, rife with possibilities. Borac plays the infrequent No. 15 “The Bridegroom” with a tempestuous urgency that reminds us the C Minor Transcendental Etude, “Wild Jagd.” My Darling (No. 12) proves a lilting nocturne with gorgeous doublings in the harmonies and soaring rhetoric. “The Ring” (No. 14) incorporates mazurka rhythm in staccato and parlando style. Much stomping, cascading octaves, and Polish revelry mark “A Drinking Song” (No. 4) to conclude this audacious transposition of colors and bravura effects, all accomplished with remarkably graceful zal.
Borac consumes the C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 in one large gulp, the stretches notwithstanding her ability to make the whole legato in spirit. Immediately, the difficulties of digital articulation invested into the A Minor succumb to a facile, even pulse and vocal shading. Cantabile and intensely polyphonic at once, the E Major sings its melancholy plaint with unaffected directness, though the middle section sizzles. Its C-sharp Minor counterpart hustles in aggressive fury, all “etude,” as the fingers of each hand vie for supremacy. A sterling “Black Key” etude follows, its infectious triplets in as perfect a performance as I know. The E-flat Minor Nocturne glows in its haunted way, the timbres graduated just enough to startle us, quietly. The “syncopes” etude in C Major provides Borac with a voluptuous toccata in resonant sonics. The F Major breezes on happy feet; its undulating companion in F Minor carries a Lisztian obsession in its left hand over which a cosmic drama unfolds. The A-flat Major’s doublings in sixths and octaves prance across our aural stage with flurried abandon, a syncopated miracle. The No. 11 has as its ultimate arbiter Josef Lhevinne, but Borac gives it a college try, its slinky sprezzatura and harp approximations quite alluring. The “Revolutionary” Etude conveys defiance, national flames, and enough bravura arpeggios in diapason to satisfy a legion of keyboard acolytes.
The Aeolian Harp Etude in A-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1 both ripples and lulls us with its pastoral affect, a serene virtuosity. The F Minor “Bees” etude harps on the dominant to achieve its effect, sparkling and paradoxically demure at once. The gallops of No. 3 in F Major pass us with extroverted panache; the A Minor inverts the progression, lightly staccato. The quizzical–one dares to say “impromptu”–No. 5 in E Minor Borac executes as a choppy mazurka whose middle section opens into a noble barcarolle or liquid nocturne. No. 6 displays Borac’s capacity for rapid legato in parallel thirds, supple and eminently vocal. The largest of the etudes, the C-sharp Minor, carries the dramatic weight of an operatic aria, a tragic duet that only Mario and Tosca can approximate. That Borac keeps the dynamics restrained and the textures clear testifies to a refined sensibility. The D-flat’s perpetual mobile Borac tosses off with aplomb, with a touch of thrilled passion just beneath a glossy surface. Borac’s “Butterfly” in G-flat Major catches the spring air and somersaults with the best of them, even rivaling my favorite version by Josef Hofmann. The chromatic anguish of the B Minor’s outer sections quite overruns our emotional ramparts, only to yield to a melancholy chorale of surpassing submission, much in the spirit of the middle section from the Funeral March in the Sonata, Op. 35. The A Minor “Winter Wind” blows cold and tormented, akin to much of dark Schubert. The funereal march that asserts itself over the right hand furies passes like a shadow on our own graves. The last page gusts, hesitates, then sinks into an abyss designed by Edgar Allan Poe. Finally, a sea of troubles in C Minor whose inevitable C Major chorale transcends the volley of arpeggios in both hands, a kind of Beethoven’s Fifth compressed into Chopin’s especial majesty.