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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Grand duo concertant sur la Romance de M. Lafont ‘Le marin’, S128/R462 (1835) [16:15]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S 382bis (1883) [6:40]
Epithalam zu Eduard Reményi’s Vermählungsfeier, S129/R466 (1872) [4:28]
Rapsodie hongroise XII, S 379a (c. 1850) [12:11]
Elegie No.2, S131 bis/R472 (1878) [4:46]
Romance oubliée, S 132 (c. 1880) [6:38]
La lugubre gondola, S 134 bis (1882-3) [9:49]
Ulf Wallin (violin); Roland Pöntinen (piano)
rec. 2014, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
BIS BIS-2085 SACD [60:02]

CDs are sometimes like buses - you wait ages for one and then two come along almost simultaneously. Liszt’s music for violin and piano is pretty obscure and no doubt lovers of Liszt and chamber music were delighted by the release recently of a recital by Voytek Proniewicz (violin) and Wojciech Waleczek (piano) on Naxos. That disc was given by a favourable review by my colleague Philip R. Buttall.

Now, a few months later BIS release a recital, with some repetition of works, by the highly regarded duo of Wallin and Pöntinen. Their previous recordings, which have included Schoenberg, Schumann and Reger, have been very favourably reviewed on this site.

This excellently executed recital commences with the highly impressive and virtustic Grand duo concertant using a theme by violinist Charles-Philippe Lafont (1781-1839). Lafont once came second to Paganini in a competition but died prematurely in an accident in 1839 when a carriage transporting him overturned. This is a splendid opener and full of fun and Hungarian fire. I can imagine it would make an unusual if slightly lengthy encore to a violin sonata concert.

Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth is a lovely romantic, yet wistful piece about an island in the Rhine that Liszt nearly bought. It was the scene of his last holiday with Marie d’Agoult and their three children in 1843 before the couple split up. This work, written forty years after the event, recalls this happy time with a strain of regret. The piece is probably better known for cello and piano and has been reviewed in this form several times on this site. I will certainly be tracking down a recording although I must emphasize the empathy achieved here by Wallin and the echo by Pöntinen.

Epithalam, like the first piece common to the Naxos recital, was written for the wedding of violinist Eduard Reményi (1828-1898). I should think Mr and Mrs Reményi would have been delighted especially if it was played as it is here. The liner-notes, including a lengthy piece on Liszt by Ulf Wallin, are very informative but do not say if Reményi played the premiere or whether Liszt accompanied him. Reményi was to have been the first soloist of Liszt’s Violin Concerto but it was either not written or lost.

Rapsodie hongroise XII illustrates Liszt’s mastery of this medium. This is not a straight transcription of the piano version. The notes use the words “impassioned” and this is very apt with real emotion in evidence as well as delicacy. The playing is simply superb and the renowned top-rate BIS recording quality captures the sound perfectly. On a first-class disc this is one of the standouts.

Elegie No.2 is one of a pair and is dedicated to Liszt’s first biographer Lina Ramann. I did wonder why the first Elegie, present on the Naxos disc wasn’t included. There would have been plenty of room. The first part “dolcissimo amoroso” is gentle and reticent before becoming more exciting. It then reverts to the more peaceful nature of the start.

Romance oubliée has an interesting history. It was originally a song “O pourquois done” written in 1843 but this version owes influences from “Canto religioso” in the second movement of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy; the composers were great friends. Like the song, this is a mournful piece and is here played with great feeling.

La lugubre gondola was originally written for piano, later for violin or cello and piano. When Liszt met his son-in-law Richard Wagner he had a premonition of his death six weeks later. Wagner called Liszt’s works “budding madness” which is interesting considering his own oeuvre. Looking up “lugubre”, I found definitions of doleful, gloomy, mournful and macabre which all seem apt for this piece which has the air of a dream of a coming tragic event. The full emotion of the foretold occasion is played with great sympathy sadly bringing this wonderful disk to a close.

This has been a superb collection to review, one of the best ever and I welcome it very warmly. The music is top class and I write this as one who is familiar only with the well-known Liszt pieces. The playing, recording and notes are also excellent and is another fine achievement by these artists. The result is that I want to hear more of this repertoire and that must surely be the final accolade.

David R. Dunsmore



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