Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree).
Ballades - No. 1 in D flat; No. 2 in B minor.

Rhondda Gillespie (piano).
Chandos CHAN6629 [ADD] [61'43]

Liszt's set of Christmas pieces, Weihnachtsbaum, (written in 1874-6 for his granddaughter) has never gained a strong foothold in the repertoire. By its very nature, it is bound by the seasons: but there is more to it than this. It seems to represent the various faces of Liszt in one piece. So it moves from the simple presentation of Die Hirten an der Krippe (the third movement, a charming version of In dulci jubilo) to the Bartók-like Scherzoso fifth movement or the spare textures of the second, O heilige Nacht. The ninth movement, Abendglocken, is the epitome of Christmas with its tinkling, music-box sonorities.

There is a change of compositional direction in the final three pieces of the Suite, however, with the Liszt of Nuages gris and the like to the fore: Ehemals!: Jadis ('Long ago') is desolate and disjunct while Ungarisch is a deconstructed, disembodied march.

Gillespie is capable of moments of tenderness and is best in the simply presented movements. She experiences some technical difficulties along the way, however, a failing which becomes more apparent in the two Ballades. The Second, the longer of the two by some way, finds her once more shading some passages fetchingly, but overall Gillespie fails to accord the piece the weight its status demands.

If the Ballades take your interest, Stephen Hough has just recorded them for Hyperion (CDA67085, coupled with the B minor Sonata). For Weihnachtsbaum, Leslie Howard on Hyperion CDA66388 would be a safer choice.


Colin Clarke

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