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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 43: Transcriptions of Symphonic Poems
Les Préludes symphonic poem No. 3, S511a (arr. Karl Klauser, rev. Liszt, 1885) [17.09]
Orpheus symphonic poem No. 4, S511b (arr. Friedrich Spiro, rev. Liszt, 1879) [10.31]
Künstlerfestzug S520ii (second version, 1883) [9.40]
Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (No. 1 Die Wiege - Le Berceau; No. 2 Der Kampf um’s Dasein - le Combat pour la vie; No. 3 Zum Grabe – Die Wiege des zukunftigen Lebens; A la tombe – Berceau de la vie future) symphonic poem No. 13, S512 (1882) [15.27]
Der nächtliche Zug (from Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust) (arr. Robert Freund, rev Liszt, 1872) [14.25]
Vierter Mephisto-Walzer S696 (1885) [3.46]
Sergio Monteiro (piano)
rec. Small Rehearsal Hall, Wanda Bass School of Music, Oklahoma City University. OK, USA, 1-5 June 2015
NAXOS 8.573485 [71.11]

Liszt himself transcribed all bar one of the symphonic poems for two pianos and these have been recorded several times. He also arranged all 13 of these works for piano four hands and these, to my knowledge, have yet to be recorded in their entirety. However, when it came to solo piano arrangements, the only one which he personally made was the thirteenth and final symphonic poem, Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe. For the preceding twelve, he left the task to some of his students. These solo piano versions were published by Breitkopf und Härtel in two volumes. Included in this set were arrangements by people such as Karl Klauser, Frederico Spiro and Ludwig Stark. A similar situation is found with the transcription of Der nächtliche Zug which was arranged by Robert Freund for solo piano. However, prior to publishing, Liszt personally revised Les Préludes, Orpheus, Der nächtliche Zug, Mazeppa, Festklänge and Hungaria so these can now be included in the canon of piano works by Liszt himself. The first three of these works are recorded on this disc along with other original pieces which were also published in orchestral form, as well as for piano solo.

Les Préludes was the third of Liszt's Symphonic poems and is itself based on the overture to an earlier choral work entitled Les Quatre Eléments (S80). The work is probably the best known and popular of the set of thirteen and does not require much introduction. In this solo piano form, the work has been recorded at least three times to date. I rather like the slightly slower approach at the start of the piece; it is well used and is a good way to build up tension. This is a method he uses elsewhere on the disc to good effect. Overall, the performance is in the same sort of timings as other recordings I am familiar with: Monteiro takes 17:09, Leslie Howard 16:31 and Orazio Sciotino 17:10. However it’s not all about how fast you can play things – Monteiro is very fast in the sections which should be fast and slower where he should be slow. Although I would prefer a slightly faster Tempo di Marcia section (bar 370 in the Eulenberg orchestral score) towards the end (around 14:37), the whole piece holds together well and is well played.

Orpheus is a mostly peaceful piece and works very well in this solo version. This is adroitly played with very well sustained and smooth lines throughout. The powerful and sinister sounding section towards the end (at 7:21) comes off nicely and the final few pages – described by Liszt himself as “their gradual uplifting like clouds of incense” are really lovely.

Künstlerfestzug is a different kind of thing altogether - a powerful and joyful march with a slower, more reflective central section the theme of which is used in Liszt’s Symphonic Poem Die Ideale. This is the second version of this piece dating from 1883 and it is not hugely different from its earlier version from 23 years before. Here Monteiro’s virtuosity comes to the fore and he makes a splendid job of a little known and very difficult piece.

The final symphonic poem, and therefore the only one not originally transcribed by someone else, was originally written as a piano piece and later orchestrated by the composer. Interestingly, the piano version includes some hints of additional instrumentation: flute, oboe and trumpet. Some recordings include these additional notes as part of the piano part as it brings things closer to the detail found in the orchestral version and this convention is followed here. I really like the way that Monteiro plays the first section of this piece – subtitled Die Wiege. There is a kind of emptiness and melancholy in the way he plays it which works really well. The middle section is much louder and angrier and again here, the tempo is slightly on the slow side which seems to work for this piece. The finale, based on themes from elsewhere within the work is quiet and reflective like the first part and again, I really like the way he plays this. I do however object to the slightly out of tune piano which spoils things in the louder sections, especially high up in the treble and really noticeably at the end of the piece.

The first part of Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust, subtitled Der nächtliche Zug is a mysterious piece which pushes the boundaries of tonality. Oddly here, instead of the usual companion piece which is the First Mephisto Waltz, we get the fourth instead. No. 4 dates from towards the end of Liszt's life and was left unfinished at his death. However, the part that he left is perfectly performable, has been published and is played here. I have a question - why not record the correct companion piece? Both Mephisto waltzes have already been recorded so it seems a little out of place to record again a piece which was never intended as a companion to Der nächtliche Zug. It is not that the disc is not long enough, there is room for a 10–12 minute work if you leave off the Fourth Mephisto waltz.

Der nächtliche Zug depicts a forest at night through which Faust is wandering. He then comes across a religious procession; here the piece quotes the ancient plainchant melody Pange lingua. This causes him to collapse into tears and sadness. Anyway, the music is very well played but again the out of tune piano becomes more aggravating as the music becomes more agitated and atonal. As with the sinister sections in the other works on this disc, Monteiro seems to be able to judge where the gaps should be in the music which makes the late pieces even more mysterious.

The last track is a very oddly detached performance of the Fourth Mephisto Waltz where the gaps between the notes are actually left for too long causing the structure to break down. Sadly, this spoils the piece for me even though it is only 3:46 in length.

Another complaint is that while the previous disc in the series, which I thought was superb (review), had full details of all of the different Searle numbers used, this one has none. I have no idea why this is but I have included them in this review as catalogued on my Hyperion/Howard set. Another observation is that oddly, most online listings of this disc mention that it has all four Mephisto waltzes in the contents - clearly that is not possible as all of them would not fit on the disc. Besides which, these were all recorded earlier on in the series on volume 24 by Giuseppe Andaloro. Obviously there has been a mis-communication here somewhere. Lastly, my biggest gripe is the out of tune piano which spoils what would be a superb recording and really grates, especially in the louder sections.

To sum up this is an interesting disc of mostly unknown works by Liszt, on the whole very well played but let down by the tuning of the piano.
Jonathan Welsh
Previous review: Ian Lace



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