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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Magic Fire and other Wagner transcriptions
Parafraasi Lentävän hollantilaisen teemoista (transcr. Jukka Nykänen) [6:58]
Spinnerlied aus dem Fliegenden Holländer (transcr. Franz Liszt) [5:02]
Prelude to Tristan und Isolde (transcr. Ernest Schelling) [11:18]
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Walhalla (transcr. Liszt) [5:58]
Siegmunds Liebesgesang (transcr. Louis Brassin) [2:59]
Feuerzauber (transcr. Brassin) [4:09]
Walkürenritt (transcr. Carl Tausig) [4:55]
Waldweben (transcr. Brassin) [4:59]
Trauermarsch (transcr. Ferruccio Busoni) [9:14]
Tannhäuser Ouvertüre (transcr. Liszt) [15:15]
Risto-Matti Marin (piano)
rec. 7-9 January 2009, Savonlinna Hall, Savonlinna, Finland. Hybrid SACD, stereo and multi-channel 5.0. Reviewed in SACD stereo
ALBA ABCD 353 [71:39]

The Wagner bicentennial celebrations continue apace, with new recordings of all the operas, a raft of essential reissues - including Klemperer’s legendary EMI sets and compilations - plus a number of transcriptions; the latter encompasses a fascinating set of pieces created for the Welte-Mignon Philharmonic Organ, once destined for the Britannic (review). Then there’s the virtuoso’s delight, the showpieces transcribed for piano by Liszt, Tausig, Busoni and others.
 
Liszt’s Wagner transcriptions are well represented in the catalogue, with excellent performances by Leslie Howard on Hyperion and Steven Meyer on Naxos; I also have very fond memories of a rather fine Tristan prelude from Craig Sheppard, who captures the lift, loft and harmonic ambiguities of the piece better than anyone I know. As for the multi-award-winning Finnish pianist Risto-Matti Marin he’s new to me, but when I sampled this disc prior to a full review I was impressed by his judicious blend of flamboyance and feeling in music that so often veers towards the former at the expense of the latter.
 
Marin casts off with a paraphrase on themes from Der Fliegender Holländer by his compatriot, the Helsinki-born pianist Jukka Nykänen. There’s plenty of snap in the sails at the start, but Alba’s natural, well-balanced recording and our pianist’s poised playing at the eye of this virtuosic storm are even more beguiling. A promising start and a perfect entrée to the Spinnerlied that follows. Marin is not at all fazed by Liszt’s dextrous demands, and he phrases and articulates with astonishing assurance and style. More important, there’s a human dimension here - a vulnerability, perhaps - that’s rarely plumbed in this repertoire.
 
Despite Marin’s finely shaded account of Ernest Schelling’s Tristan prelude the piece is a little too facile for my tastes. Liszt’s version is altogether more subtle and varied, and it has an otherworldliness that Schelling’s earthbound effort simply can’t match. That point is reinforced in Walhalla, Liszt’s masterly paraphrase on themes from the Ring; he has an unparalleled understanding of Wagner’s suspensions and harmonic structures, while also preserving the nobility and breadth of this great music. Marin brings out the latter with magisterial ease, every last flourish superbly rendered by the Alba engineers. Happily that sonic excellence extends to both the RBCD and stereo SACD layers.
 
The Belgian composer-pianist Louis Brassin’s take on Siegmunds Liebesgesang fromDie Walküre has a winning transparency and charm that’s irresistible, especially when it’s essayed with such spontaneity and sparkle. Ditto the Feuerzauber, which flickers and flares so mesmerically here. Marin is alive to every last shift and shimmer of this piece, and it’s that heightened sense of musical and dramatic proportion that enables him to navigate Carl Tausig’s sometimes splashy Walkürenritt with such aplomb. The plethora of runs and trills are just breathtaking; indeed, I’ve seldom heard these airborne Amazons take flight with such terror and triumph.
 
This disc has been programmed with great care, the more effusive transcriptions sandwiched between those of interior delight, such as Brassin’s delicately baroque Waldweben from Siegfried. Placing that alongside the dark cortège of Busoni’s Trauermarsch is equally inspired, for it highlights the composers’ different styles and how fluently Marin adapts to their varying demands. His control of touch and dynamics are most atmospherically demonstrated as the funeral procession dissolves into the grieving mists.
 
What better way to end this ear-catching collection than with the amplitude, splendour and simple piety of Liszt’s overture to Tannhäuser? Once again I was struck by Marin’s ability to look beyond the many points of light that make up the Abbé’s glittered score and find so much warmth and feeling there. The work proceeds with unforced vigour and momentum towards a chanderliered apotheosis. Quite the most scruff-grabbing pianism I’ve heard in ages, and all so well recorded too.
 
Magic and fire aplenty; Risto-Matti Marin is a pianist of style and substance.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

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