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Franz LISZT (1811-1886) 15 Songs
Timothy Fallon (tenor)
Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano)
rec. July 2015, Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem, Israel
Sung texts with English translations enclosed BIS BIS-2272 SACD [65:56]
Liszt composed a considerable number of songs, from the late 1830s and throughout his life. Many of them he returned to for revisions, sometimes quite extensive, and in many cases more than once. Recently I reviewed a disc titled “Forgotten Liszt”, with Benjamin Brecher, tenor, and Robert Koenig, piano. They focused primarily on the first versions—the “originals”—for the simple reason that they have been difficult to come by, many of them long since out of print, and thus forgotten. No fewer than six of the songs were premiere recordings. On the present disc Timothy Fallon and Ammiel Bushakevitz have instead mostly concentrated on second versions, where Liszt very often has honed the originals, sometimes softened the virtuosity, given them a more mature shape. The good thing is that we now have several versions available and can compare, can enjoy their various aspects. Simply expressed: we can enthuse about youthful freshness one minute and savour mature perfection the next. When the ongoing Hyperion project is finished—hopefully within a couple of years—we will have all the circa 129 versions available in first-class readings, but that will not exclude other recordings, provided that they are good.
I knew Timothy Fallon from before, having heard him as the tenor soloist in Sven-David Sandström’s Messiah, both in the recording and in a live performance. I liked him a lot but thought him too weak in the concert hall. I was not prepared for the marvellous singing he delivers in this recital. The Petrarch Sonnets are among Liszt’s greatest masterworks in this genre, and they demand a singer with beauty of tone, stamina and intelligence. They were originally conceived for high tenor and piano but later transcribed to piano pieces and included in the Italian Années de Pèlerinage. And the piano is of great importance in the songs as well. Ammiel Bushakevitz’s delicious playing was the first thing that caught my attention in Pace non trovo. When Timothy Fallon enters, one feels that these two musicians are twin souls: their phrasing, their nuances mirror each other. Just listen to the beginning of the second stanza Tal m’ha in priggion where the pianist’s soft phrases are followed by the most exquisite lyrical mezza voce, bristling with strong feeling. Maybe Fallon’s tone is slightly pinched at forte but his singing is constantly engaging and the end of the song is ravishing! In Benedetto sia ‘I giorno his phrasing and timbre remind me of the young Pavarotti, before he adopted the mannerisms of his superstar years. His involvement is tangible and the way he builds up an intense crescendo is certainly Pavarottian, but most of all he impresses with his half-voice. I’ vidi in terra is again marvellously sensitively performed by singer and pianist alike. I have heard and reviewed several highly recommendable recordings of these songs during the last few years. Rebecca Evans (Signum), Matthew Polenzani (Hyperion), Gerald Finley (Hyperion) and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Ondine) are all masterly. Now I will add Timothy Fallon to that select group.
And the excellence is not limited to the Petrarch Sonnets. The first song Liszt ever wrote, Angiolin dal biondo crin from 1839, is here sung in the second version, probably made in 1849. He revised it three times which surely indicates that it was important to him. Written for his three-year-old daughter, this simple and utterly beautiful song is here sung with love and care.
Victor Hugo was Liszt’s friend and idol—they also shared their political convictions—and Hugo was the poet he set most of all. Four of these settings, all from the early 1840s, form a little group, nicely contrasted and most exquisitely sung: the eager and humoristic Comment, disaient-ils; Oh! Quand je dors, one of the most well-known of his songs and here sung with hushed intensity at mezza voce; Enfant, si j’étais roi; and S’il est un charmant gazon, also exquisite. The only setting of an English poem was Go not, happy day from Tennyson’s Maud. It is a late composition, from 1879, when Liszt was approaching 70, and here his harmonic language is pointing forward to impressionism.
The rest of the disc consists of excursions into the German poetry. Klinge, leise, mein Lied is rarely heard, but it is a beautiful song. It is sung with great feeling and an exquisite legato. Jugendglück is characterized by some virtuoso piano playing. And piano virtuosity is also part and parcel of the three songs from Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, here heard in the first version from 1845. Der Fischerknabe is outgoing and virtuoso, the vocal part less so, but requires dramatic strength and expressivity. Der Hirt is more melancholy. The herdsman must take leave of the pastures for summer is over. But he will return when the cuckoo calls. Der Alpenjäger is the most dramatic song here, with thundering accompaniment and intense declamation, but also warmth and feeling for nature. The final number, Ihr Glocken von Marling¸ is another rather late song. Liszt, as in the Tennyson piece, explores in it harmonies that will be central to impressionism, only a decade or two away.
This is a fine and well-balanced recital with three central groups of songs: The Petrarch Sonnets, the four Hugo settings and Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell trilogy, with some odd songs sandwiched in between, and the encore Ihr Glocken von Marling showing the way to the next generation. The BIS recording is all what one could wish, Ammiel Bushakevitz’s liner notes informative—though I would prefer to have the comments of the individual songs in the same order as on the disc—and the playing and singing of the highest order. The interest in Liszt’s songs is apparently on the increase this disc should win many new admirers of them.
Tre sonetti di Petrarca, S.270/1 (1842-46; first version) [19:30]
1. I. Pace non trovo [7:12]
2. II. Benedetto sia ‘I giorno [6:08]
3. III. I’vidi in terra angelici costumi [5:57]
4. Angiolin dal biondo crin (Marchese Cesare Boccella), S.269/2 (1839; second version ?1849) [5:38]
5. Comment, disaient-ils (Victor Hugo), S.276/2 (1842; second version 1849-1859) [1:56]
6. Oh! Quand je dors (Victor Hugo), S.282/2 (1842; second version 1849) [5:15]
7. Enfant, si j’etais roi (Victor Hugo), S.283/2 (1844; second version 1849) [2:56]
8. S’il est un charmant gazon (Victor Hugo), S.284/2 (1844; second version 1849-1859) [2:27]
9. Go not, happy day (Alfred, Lord Tennyson), S.335 (1879) [3:06]
10. Kling leise, mein Lied (Johann Nordmann), S.301/2 (1848; second version, 1849-1860) [5:06]
11. Jugendglück (Richard Pohl), S.323 (?1860) [1:48]
Drei Lieder aus Schillers Wilhelm Tell, S.292/1 (1845; first version) [13:04]
12. I. Der Fischerknabe [4:34]
13. II. Der Hirt [5:06]
14. III. Der Alpenjäger [3:18]
15. Ihr Glocken von Marling (Emil Kuh), S.328 (1874) [3:23]