Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Faust Symphony, S.108 (1854, chorus added 1857) [71:45]
Dante Symphony, S.109 (1855-56) [50:09]
Dante Sonata for piano, S.161/7 (1837, rev. 1849) [16:19]
Sonata for Piano, S.178 (1852-53) [32:33]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for orchestra, S.359/2 [11:17]
3 Verdi Paraphrases for piano:
Rigoletto Paraphrase, S.434 [7:29]
Il trovatore, Miserere, S.433 [9:33]
Aida, Danza sacra e duetto finale, S.436 [12:21]
Daniel Barenboim (piano); Plácido Domingo, tenor (S.108)
Male chorus of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin (S.108)
Women’s chorus of the Berlin Radio Choir (S.109)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (S.108, S.109, S.359/2)
rec. March/June 1998 Philharmonie Berlin (S.108); February 1992
live at Konzerthaus Berlin (S.109); July 1985 Neues Schloss, Bayreuth
(S.161/7); July 1985 Haus Wahnfried Markgräfliches Theatre,
Munich (S.178; S.434; S.433; S.436); June 1990 live at Waldbühne,
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 67440-3 [3 CDs: 71:45 + 61:29 + 78:12]
Warner Classics has issued this splendid three disc boxed set
of eight Franz Liszt scores. It fetaures Daniel Barenboim as
both piano soloist and conductor. These recordings were originally
issued on four separate discs: the Dante Symphony and
the Dante Sonata on Warner Classics 3984 22948-2; the
Faust Symphony was also released on Teldec 2564 69368-9.
The Piano Sonata and the 3 Verdi Paraphrases were
issued on Erato ECD 75477. Recorded at a live open air concert
at Berlin’s Waldbühne amphitheatre the Hungarian
Rhapsody for orchestra No. 2 was issued on Teldec 2292 46329-2.
This fine selection could not have a finer advocate than Daniel
Barenboim; a true giant in the classical music world today.
A brilliant performer at the piano and a conductor of great
renown this man lives for music. A couple of years ago in Berlin
I saw him on four consecutive days: first playing as soloist
with the Berlin Philharmonic; then giving a piano recital followed
by conducting a performance of Tristan und Isolde at
Berlin State Opera. Amazingly the next evening he attended a
Schumann chamber music recital at the Rykestrasse synagogue
helping out as the page turner for the pianist.
Although best known as a virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt was also
highly influential as a progressive composer who according to
biographer Cecil Gray created, “some of the greatest
and most original masterpieces of the nineteenth century.”
Prolific and versatile he produced over seven hundred scores
covering most genres of which over half were for piano. Even
in this the year of the two-hundredth anniversary much of his
music is ignored most unjustly so. The main concentration is
given to a familiar group of piano works. A number of the symphonic
poems and the two piano concertos have fared well in the recording
studio. However, Liszt’s songs, sacred choral music, oratorios
Saint Elisabeth and Christus,and the majority
of his orchestral scores are virtually absent from recital and
concert hall programmes.
It is good to have Liszt’s two visionary symphonies as
an integral part of this Warner Classics box set and played
by distinguished forces.
From 1854 A Faust Symphony in Three Character Pictures, after
Goethe, S.108 is a product of Liszt’s time as music
director in Weimar the Thuringian city so closely associated
with Goethe’s tragic two-part play Faust. It seems
that it was Berlioz who encouraged Liszt to write a score based
on the principal characters. Another influence it seems was
the set of Faust pictures by Ary Scheffer, an artist
who painted a renowned portrait of Liszt in 1837. Cast in three
movements: Faust; Gretchen andMephistopheles,
the score contains a choral conclusion entitled Chorus mysticus
for tenor soloist and male chorus. Liszt added this later. Appropriately
the Faust Symphony was premièred by Liszt in Weimar
in 1857 to celebrate the dedication of the Goethe-Schiller statue
outside the city’s National Theatre.
Recorded in the Philharmonie, Berlin the weighty opening movement
Allegro is intended as a description of the troubled
and anguished philosopher. Barenboim creates a heady excitement
laced with tension. It has been stated that the Faust
movement is actually a musical representation of the composer.
Marked Andante soave the following beautiful portrait
of the young Gretchen is tenderly interpreted with a
convincing sense of vulnerability. Especially memorable are
the colourful woodwind and glowing string section. Full of variety,
colour and lyricism Mephistopheles is a mocking Scherzo
marked Allegro vivace, ironico. Barenboim’s
demonic depiction is persuasively thrilling and often dark and
unsettling. The choral conclusion Chorus mysticus to
the closing lines from Goethe’s Faust is suitably
sturdy with tenor soloist Plácido Domingo simply outstanding
in his brief but crucial role.
This account of the Faust Symphony is the finest available.
However, I also admire the 1976 Boston, USA recording from Leonard
Bernstein and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with Kenneth Riegel
(tenor) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon
‘Galleria’ 431 470-2. Another fine version is from
James Conlon, the male chorus of the Slovak Philharmonic Bratislava
with tenor John Aler and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recorded in 1983 I have the account on Erato ECD 88068 (re-issued
on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 2564-61460-2). In 1992
at Berlin, Eliahu Inbal conducted a fine account of Faust
with the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra and tenor
Jianyi Zhang. First released on Denon COCO 73007 the recording
has been reissued on Brilliant Classics 92080. Simon Rattle
also conducted a live recording of Faust in 1993 at the
Berlin Philharmonie with the Ernst-Senff Chorus, Prague Philharmonic
Chorus, tenor Peter Seiffert and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Certainly worthy of consideration that disc was available on
EMI Classics CDC5 55220-2.
For his Dante Symphony Liszt was inspired by Dante’s
epic poem the Divine Comedy;a legendary masterwork
of literature. The poem has three sections Inferno (Hell),
Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise).
In Weimar around 1848 with his companion Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein,
Liszt had been sketching out his Dante Symphony undertaking
the majority of the work in 1855-6. Liszt intended to follow
Dante’s three sections Inferno; Purgatorio
and Paradiso but was persuaded by Wagner not to attempt
a musical depiction of Paradiso;in effect a musical
depiction of Heaven. Liszt replaced his intended Finale
with a choral movement to the opening lines of the Latin Magnificat.
Recorded at the Konzerthaus (Schauspielhaus), Berlin the ominous
introduction to the Inferno is impressively dark and
chilling. Barenboim interprets Liszt’s fertile and imaginative
writing to inspiring effect. Affectionately played the Purgatorio
has a quasi-religious character. Liszt’s follows the journey
of the soul to achieve the riches of supreme blessedness. Of
modest length the Magnificat is a joyous sequence with
the Berlin Radio women’s chorus conveying a celestial
quality. A picture of great beauty is painted which serves as
the prospect of paradise rather than the kingdom of heaven itself.
I recall a recent performance of the Dante Symphony in
February 2011 at Manchester’s Bridgwater Hall with the
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda. For the
Magnificat Noseda positioned the CBSO women’s chorus
high up in the gallery of the auditorium. Noseda chose the version
of the Magnificat that included a soprano soloist (Miriam
Allan) who emerged from a high position behind the choir seats
at the back of the stage.
Barenboim’s excellent version of the Dante Symphony
with the Berlin Philharmonic and the women’s chorus of
the Rundfunkchor Berlin is outstanding. Nevertheless, I also
enjoy the account from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
and Choeur de Concert de Helmond conducted by James Conlon.
Recorded circa 1986 on Erato ECD 88162 I have the disc reissued
on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 0927-49816-2. Another
well performed but often overlooked live account is from 1995
at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw from Hartmut Haenchen and the
Netherlands Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra on Capriccio 10
736 now reissued on Brilliant Classics 92080.
Liszt’s Dante Sonata for piano, S.161/7 is taken
from Deuxième année: Italie (Second
Year: Italy), the second of a collection of three
suites (or books/volumes) that form the composer’s Années
de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). This
substantial single movement score was begun in 1837 and revised
over a decade later in 1849. Liszt was inspired by Dante’s
famous epic poem the Divine Comedy. The full title Après
une Lecture de Dante:Fantasia quasi Sonata (After
a Reading of Dante:Fantasia quasi Sonata) is taken
from Victor Hugo’s poem summarising the Inferno
section of the poem. It is considered to be one of the most
formidably difficult pieces in the standard piano repertoire.
Barenboim is remarkably adept as piano soloist in this dramatic
interpretation. Remarkable is Barenboim’s in the
rapid change of mood and tempi creating a mounting frisson
that puts one on the edge of the seat. There are many fine recordings
but if I had to choose just one as an alternative to this Barenboim
performance it would be the dramatic account from Aldo Ciccolini
recorded in Paris in 1962 as part of a five disc Liszt box set
of piano works on EMI Classics 3 67906 2.
The Piano Sonata in B minor is acknowledged by biographer
Alan Walker as a, “masterpiece” and “arguably
one of the greatest keyboard works to come out of the nineteenth
century” (Franz Liszt (Volume 2), ‘The Weimar
Years 1848-1861’, Cornell University Press (1987)
ISBN 0-8014-9721-3). A landmark of the genre itwas composed
by Liszt in 1852-53. Barenboim injects considerable romantic
ardour into his performance and his sincerity is never in doubt.
As one would expect his playing is naturally high on technical
security but also radiates an impressive nobility of spirit.
Of the numerous accounts in the catalogue I can narrow down
from my collection just three favourite selections. I remain
a firm advocate of Jorge Bolet’s authoritative and dramatic
1982 Kingsway Hall, London interpretation. I have this on both
Decca 410 115-2; on a Double Decca 444 851-2. It is also included
in the 9 disc Bolet boxed set of Liszt Piano Works on
Decca 467 801-2. I feel a great affection for the magnificent
1989 Herkulessaal, Munich account from Maurizio Pollini. It
is played with such warmth and fondness, and a deep concentration
complemented by notable sound quality. It is on Deutsche Grammophon
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C minor for orchestra
was written originally for solo piano around 1847. The latter
formed part of a set of nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies.
A number of these were orchestrated in the late 1850s including
the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 - it seems by Franz Doppler
and Liszt himself. According to the Liszt thematic catalogue
prepared by Humphrey Searle the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
has the number S.359/2 (The Music of Liszt by Humphrey
Searle, Dover Publications, second revised edition (1966)).
Confusingly the booklet notes incorrectly designate the performance
as being S.106/2 and also indicate that Barenboim is playing
the version for solo piano. This is in fact the version for
full orchestra with Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic
- not credited in the annotation. The loudly enthusiastic crowd
at the summer open air concert at Berlin’s Waldbühne
can be clearly heard. Barenboim has ensured that the Hungarian
Rhapsody No. 2 although rich with dark undertones is as
thrillingly performed as I have heard.
I also admire the 1967 Berlin Hungarian Rhapsody No.2
from Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
This exciting performance is available on several Deutsche Grammophon
issues - although a word of warning as a number of discs are
incorrectly described. Although given an incorrect track number
Karajan’s version of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2
is contained on my double set Deutsche Grammophon ‘Panorama’
The third disc of the set concludes with three of the paraphrases
on Verdi’s operas. Liszt was prolific in this genre that
allowed circulation of his adaptations of popular operatic works
of the day to a wider audience. Often dismissed by some as mere
trifles these are substantial scores to be taken seriously.
They contain wonderful music that will provide much delight.
From an extensive selection Barenboim has chosen Liszt’s
paraphrases for solo piano from the Verdi operas Rigoletto,
S.434, the Miserere from Il trovatore, S.433 and
the Danza sacra e duetto finale from Aida, S.436.
As an admirer of Verdi operas I am fond of all three scores.
My particular highlight is Liszt’s 1859 paraphrase of
Verdi’s Rigoletto a work of the utmost merit here
confidently and ardently projected.
As an alternative to Barenboim consider Aldo Ciccolini who recorded
them in 1982 and 1990 in Paris as part of that five disc set
on EMI Classics 3 67906 2. On the same disc there are four other
opera paraphrases one each from Wagner, Donizetti and Gounod,
and another from Verdi.
In the Warner booklet the listings contain one or two sloppy
errors and the label have not included any essay or sung texts
whatsoever. I’m disappointed that the informative original
texts were not included.
The presentation may be flawed in parts but there is no need
to worry as the performances are first class. There are no problems
with the sound quality which is consistently clear and well
balanced. Barenboim has the advantage of the wonderful Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra who demonstrate throughout their assurance,
unity and glorious sound.
Barenboim and Liszt make a perfect combination making this a
desirable Warner Classics box set.
Masterwork Index: Sonata
in B minor