LISZT: Transcendental Etudes, S139; Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S514; Gnomenreigen, S145 No. 2; Hungarian Rhapsodies – Georges Cziffra, p. – EMI Signature Series (3 discs)

by | Jul 15, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

LISZT: Transcendental Etudes, S139; Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S514; Gnomenreigen, S145 No. 2; Hungarian Rhapsodies, S244 – Georges Cziffra, piano – EMI Signature Series stereo-only SACD 9 55962 2 (3 discs), 78:33, 62:03, 56:51 *****:
Hungarian pianist Georges Cziffra was a wild man, absolutely made for the music of Franz Liszt. A sufferer under the communists, he wore a bracelet to always remind himself of the experience and to support the ligaments of his wrist which were stretched while being tortured. He was perhaps like jazz player Miles Davis in the way he played music in his own way as if it was the only way, and then displayed a consequent disdain for the audience reaction, good or bad. Honestly it is difficult to say what the percentage split would be for either of these reactions. Even those who hated the interpretations could not help but be mesmerized by them, and even those composers that really caused consternation for audiences—like Chopin—became instant recorded classics. Cziffra was a technician par excellence and few pianists could present composers like Liszt with such phenomenal pyrotechnical wizardry and clean, amazingly dry playing, emphasizing the clarity of the music and the utterly devastating difficulty of the music.
Here in the new Signature Series EMI offers us three of his best recordings. His Hungarian Rhapsodies have been known far and wide as his “signature” pieces, instant classics, and the sound offered here in stereo is easily the best incarnation these recording have ever enjoyed. One really has to settle into this music and be awed at Cziffra’s ability to navigate the hurdles Liszt presents. The Transcendental Etudes are among Liszt’s greatest works, masterpieces all, and only the Decca recording of Jorge Bolet can rival the intensity and poetic feeling that Cziffra infuses. The Mephisto Waltz is another classic, and this reading is probably the very best one ever recorded. Added as a bonus we get the concert etude Gnomenreigen. 
Releases like this are self-recommending, and I would particularly urge younger readers who are maybe not familiar with artists like Cziffra to explore this release—it could prove life-changing in how you listen to this music.
—Steven Ritter

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