There is of course far more to Liszt than
the shallow, generally held view that he was a virtuoso first,
a creative artist second. Not that there is anything wrong
with virtuosity, which was a significant driving force during
the romantic era. The concept of 'the artist as hero' remains
potent to this day, not least when we encounter an artist
who can do justice to the towering demands of the Paganini
Studies. And there is no question that George-Emmanuel Lazaridis
The recorded sound from Linn is excellent,
finding that always elusive balance between detail and atmosphere.
In fact this balance is a critical consideration in a recording
of these compositions, whose emotional, technical and expressive
range is so wide – this is so with the Sonata especially.
For the piano tone sounds particularly well, and the first
climactic section of the Sonata is thrilling in terms of both
sonics and performance. Rarely can a piano recording have
generated such sheer impact.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the
Sonata in B minor is the summit of Liszt's achievement as
a composer of piano music. He completed it in 1853, soon after
he had settled at Weimar as Kapellmeister, and gave its
dedication to another great piano-composer, Robert Schumann.
The first performance took place in Berlin in 1857, when the pianist was
Liszt's protégé, Hans von Bülow.
While undoubtedly a virtuoso showpiece for
those talented enough to perform it, the Sonata is far more
than a 'display of fireworks'. The music’s thirty-minute span
contains an astonishingly wide range of moods, some of them
inward and restrained. Moreover, the work closes with an extended
epilogue, a veritable meditation. It is understandable, therefore
that this music is the most challenging that Lazaridis performs
in this new recording. He copes well with the demands, particularly
so the technical demands, but technique is only the half of
it. If there are doubts they lie in the direction of interpretation
and concentration, rather than technique, and it is true that
a great artist like, say, Jorge Bolet (Decca), can offer more
The more obvious pyrotechnics of the Paganini
Studies suit Lazaridis to perfection, as they did the composer-pianist
before him. If it really was Liszt’s intention to make himself
‘the Paganini of the violin’ then this performance confirms
it. The range of approaches exploits many aspects of the piano
and Lazaridis is a match for them all. As an example, his
poetic rendition of La Campanella is beautifully judged,
and as such is the highlight of the whole disc.