LISZT: Wild and Crazy = Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Hungarian Rhapsodies 2 and 6; Liebestraum No. 3; Il Penseroso; Funerailles; Valse Caprice No. 6; Totentanz; Concert Paraphrase on Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Elfin Chorus; Hungarian Fantasy; Liebeslied; La Campanella; Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto; Waldesrauschen; Gnomenreigen; Feux Follets; Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este; Wild Jagd; Nuages Gris; La Lugubre Gondola No. 1; Consolation No. 1; Fantasy on Themes from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – Various Pianists – DGG B0015651-02 (2 CDs), 79:21; 77:43 [Distr. By Universal] ****:
Given the Liszt bi-centennial and his own penchant for the audacious, the poetic, as well as the spectacular, Franz Liszt may well have approved of this collection, given the stellar performers at work and the issue of several historical items, like the two concert paraphrases by Egon Petri (1881-1962) that here find their first release. Petri’s playing (1961) proves fluent, articulate, exquisitely polished. The Mendelssohn paraphrase moves in scintillating octaves; the Busoni-arranged Fantasy on themes from The Marriage of Figaro displays its share of dry wit as well as potent bravura. The excursions on Voi che sapete alone are worth the price of admission. Since my own taste does not favor our recent pianistic flash-points Yundi Li (La Campanella) and Lang Lang (Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2), I would have preferred Gyorgy Cziffra, Lazar Berman, Ivan Davis, Gina Bachauer, and Nikita Magaloff as interpreters who bring poetry and digital authority –as well as considerable panache–to these works.
Vladimir Ashkenazy opens with his 1961 Mephisto Waltz in A Major as arranged by Busoni. Elegant and refined, the rendition still conveys great moments of diabolical fervor and sensuous intimacy. Daniel Barenboim intones the most famous of the three Liebestraum pieces (rec. 2002), slowly and in breathed phrases with the upper register aglimmer. Barenboim also performs the Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto and the first of the six Consolations. Barenboim’s Rigoletto layers the voices of the vocal quartet luxuriously. The E Major Consolation has not the melodic seduction of the D-flat No. 3, but it serves as a kind of nostalgic epilogue for the entire set. Lang Lang offers the ubiquitous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (rec. 2002) in the Horowitz arrangement. Self indulgent, glitzy, and even mannered, the interpretation still conveys much in the Liszt ethos, especially considering Schumann’s remark that much “tinsel” resided in Liszt’s style. Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) too often remains under-rated and under-represented as an exponent of Liszt. His 1981 version of Il Penseroso in C-sharp Minor brings conviction and long experience to this thoughtful study from the Second Year of Pilgrimage.
The young firebrand Martha Argerich of 1961 swings into action via the D-flat Major Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, a performance of power and extroverted passion. The valedictory Funerailles in F Minor–conceived as a memorial for Chopin and the honored dead in the 1848 fight for Hungarian independence –has Mikhail Pletnev’s 1998 reading in broad boldly colorist style. The feverish martial section certainly recalls the Heroic Polonaise of Chopin. Titan Vladimir Horowitz “live” in 1986 rather pounds out the beauties of the Soirees de Vienne after tunes from Franz Schubert. The patina softens somewhat for the intermittent assortment of laendler, but the ritornello is made of granite. Cuban virtuoso Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) is one of two–the other is Shura Cherkassky–who enjoys an orchestral complement in his Liszt. Bolet’s suave Totentanz with conductor Ivan Fischer and the London Symphony Orchestra projects menace, malice, and Elysian ecstasies, either consecutively or simultaneously, as Liszt’s persona requires.
Disc 2 begins with the 1961 collaboration of master colorist Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan in the Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes, Liszt in the grand gypsy style. With Karajan, epic spectacle betrays no rough edges. Liszt’s Liebeslied (i.e., Schumann’s “Widmung”) and La Campanella in Yundi Li’s 2002 versions offer liquid and pungently striking beauties, but Ruth Slenczynska remains my favorite on the former; Monoru Nojima mine on the latter.
Geza Anda (1921-1976) pours out the filigree of the D-flat Major Concert Etude “Waldesrauschen” in molten cascades of sound. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler once dubbed Anda “the troubadour of the piano.” The more “prickly” antics of the A Major/C-sharp Minor Concert Etude “Gnomenreigen” find their brilliant executor in Mikhail Pletnev, 1998. Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) appears before a 1986 audience to perform the mightily whimsical double-note intricacies in the Transcendental Etude in B-flat Major “Feux follets.”
Hungarian superstar Zoltan Kocsis plays the forward-looking Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este, rife with luminous F-sharp Major harmonies that liquefy and sing of future masterworks by Ravel and Debussy. Alice Sara Ott (rec. 2008) storms through the so-called “Wild Hunt” Etude of Liszt, her gripping rendition of the C Minor octaves deft and sweeping, at once. For me, however, Vladimir Ovchinnikov still reigns in this music. Jean-Rodolphe Kars (b. 1947) recorded the late piano pieces Nuages gris and La lugubre gondola No. 1 in 1967, prior to the pianist’s retirement into the priesthood, a vocation Liszt himself pursued with mixed diligence. The unearthly shape of the 1881 Grey Clouds, their temptations to atonality via the augmented triad, delve into 20th Century thought. La lugubre gondola, No. 1 (c. 1883) did not appear until 1927. Its ostinato 6/8 rhythm is tied to a series of uncanny, staggered figures in modal harmony that either anticipate or commemorate the death of Richard Wagner in Venice.
A fine booklet accompanies this set, which transcends the “Liszt primer” function and gives us some deep thoughts.
— Gary Lemco
Inspired and Inspiring…