Music for the Heart = LISZT: 6 Consolations; 3 Sonetti del Petrarca; Funerailles; MENDELSSOHN: 2 Songs Without Words; BONUS: LISZT: “The Sad Monk,” S. 348 (after Lenau) – Bridget de Moura Castro, narrator/ Luiz de Moura Castro, piano – 68:35 [www.LuizdeMouraCastro.com] ****:
On his personal website, Mr. Castro – a Brazilian virtuoso and graduate of the Liszt Academy in Budapest – claims that Claudio Arrau made an indelible impression on him as a Liszt interpreter. Castro plays a live recital (19 May 2012) for the American Liszt Society Festival, opening with the 1849-1850 set of 6 Consolations, brief but rhetorically alluring gems of their kind, of which No. 3 in D-flat Major often receives solitary treatment. Each of the six pieces serves as a romantic “floatation device,” pearly and poetic, deceptively simple in design and technique. Both the beginning and the end piece are in E Major, and the last quotes the first, so we have a cycle, plaintively ardent and straightforward as any orison, until the last – marked Allegro sempre cantabile – permits Castro a bravura cadenza of some substance. Castro’s persuasive reading may remind some auditors more of Bolet than Arrau, but the Romantic charm is there; enough so, that a standing ovation erupts after a momentary silence.
Castro then delivers a broad rendition of the Three Petrarch Sonnets from Book II of Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage: Italy (1837-1839). All three of the sonnets (pub. 1858) have an introduction and one theme with two subjects, a transition, and a coda. Liszt does vary the development in No. 123, repeating only the first subject. Castro applies a fine legato to the No. 47, full of sighs and tears of the poet’s longing for his immortal Laura. Castro marks the syncopation in the opening of No. 104, rife with contradiction: self-hatred and passionate love for another. The agitation of the piece evolves a series of chords that have no substantive resolution; but the poet consoles himself in ardent rhetoric. The pregnant fermatas in the music also reflect the poet’s ambiguity of feeling, which Castro thoughtfully conveys. He plays the smorzando (fading) thirds effectively, like a dying light. Perhaps even more singing, the No. 123 celebrates Laura as an angel, Liszt’s dynamics mostly degrees of pianissimo marked dolcissimo or dolcemente. The poet eventually loses himself in his subject, the music marked perdendo. Are the trills tears? Or a stairway to heaven? This supple and sympathetic performance certainly compares favorably with classic renditions by Arrau, Bolet, and Kentner.
The ubiquitous Funerailles (1849) serves as a national tribute to Hungary and the failed revolts of 1848-1849 and the death of Count Lajos Batthyeany, along with sixteen other leaders for independence. The piece, moreover, celebrates the music of Chopin, especially his “Heroic” Polonaise, Op. 53 and its own defiant spirit. Castro evokes both its elegiac tenor and almost pagan nationalism with alternate poetry and romantic ardor, nobly and tastefully executed. A truly “symphonic” sound emerges, a true onslaught of national pride and fatal heroism, more than transcendent of the Harmonies Poetic and Religious by Lamartine that provided the impetus for Liszt. The last page instigates another round of appreciative applause.
Castro returns for two encores, eschewing bravado and embracing more poetry: Mendelssohn’s Song without Words in E Major, Op. 19, No. 1 “Sweet Remembrance,” and the eternal “Spinning Song.” Their directness of expression, disarming “simplicity,” and poised nobility prove mesmeric to the rapt audience. If a bit of the imp invades the temple, Liszt himself would likely approve.
The bonus, a melodrama by Lenau, The Sad Monk, with keyboard music by Liszt, might be a Gothic anticipation of the Strauss Enoch Arden, with a story-line that includes dungeons and ghosts in the manner of Poe, cross-fertilized by Grimm or Byron. Spoken in English by Bridget de Moura Castro, the melodrama has an arisen monk, like the Ancient Mariner, transfix a rider and his horse with his eye. The rider has “pity for the ghastly wraith,” asking, “Why are your eyes so hollow?” With the breaking of dawn, the monk disappears. The rider and stallion continue on their final journey. “Even the leaves whisper in despair.” As the rider and his steed “plunge into the lake,” the eight-minute Gothic tragedy ends.