LISZT: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 4 = Hungaria, S. 103; Hamlet, S. 104; Hunnenschlacht, S. 105; Die Ideale, S. 106 – BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda – Chandos

by | Apr 17, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

LISZT: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 4 = Hungaria, S. 103; Hamlet, S. 104; Hunnenschlacht, S. 105; Die Ideale, S. 106 – BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda – Chandos 10490, 79:58 [Distr. by Naxos] **** :

Anyone who survived the early LP days recalls how impossible it was to acquire the Liszt 13 tone-poems for orchestra: after Les Preludes with favorites Mengelberg, Furtwaengler, and Fricsay, we had Beecham on Orpheus; Silvestri’s Tasso: Lament and Triumph; Golovanov’s What One Hears on the Mountain; Ferencsik’s Hungaria; and Scherchen’s Slaughter of the Huns. It was the rare Parliament or obscure label that carried any of the others; and only a rare collector had access to Toscanini’s From the Cradle to the Grave. When complete cycles with Kurt Masur and Benard Haitink finally appeared, it must have been c. 1980.  Conductor Noseda offers us his efforts of 1-2 February 2008, four symphonic poems that complement his prior volumes that include the Faust-Symphony.

Noseda opens with a riveting account of Hungaria, (1856), which divides itself into six sections in nationalist colors, whose conclusion martially blends in brass and percussion. Noseda provides plenty of bluster and grand, unsentimental, martial triumph. Hamlet (1858), frankly, makes less of emotional impact on this listener than does Tchaikovsky’s symphonic treatment of the emotional contour of Shakespeare’s play. Conceived as a prelude to the tragedy, the music provides a character sketch that moves from a lugubrious opening to ironic, desperate, and stormy indications, with a brief concession to Ophelia by way of two, short woodwind passages. Overly concise and lacking a “big melody,” the work strikes me as more academic than sensuous and rarely calls upon my urge to hear it. 

Liszt had been impressed by a portrait by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, Hunnenschlacht, and Liszt felt compelled to set to music (1857) this depiction of the confrontation of Attila’s forces and the forces of Christianity. The leaping figure of the Huns’ aggression more than points to the Richard Strauss Don Juan; the Christian hymn Crux Fidelis (Faithful Cross) marks the theme of humanity’s illumined progress over the elements of spiritual darkness. Crackling pyrotechnics from the BBC brass and battery, with organ accompaniment, make for a stellar, Manichean tussle of spiritual wills.  For the extended symphonic poem Die Ideale (1857) Liszt took his cue from Schiller, adjusting selected verses to a score–in ten sections–most audacious harmonically, refusing to settle on F Major until well into the introduction. With metric flexibility rampant, the score moves to a section called Aspirations, again not far from the Richard Strauss Zarathustra, also torn between C Major and B Major. Passages of philosophical doubt and skepticism turn, by degrees, to the consolations of Friendship and Activity. Some of the writing has the light, string and woodwind banter of  the Gallic masters of virtuoso orchestral effect, like Franz von Suppe and Ambroise Thomas. The last section, Apotheosis, utilizes themes from earlier in the score and adds an element of teleological fulfillment that we find at the conclusion of the Dante Symphony.

–Gary Lemco

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