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Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Complete Symphonies - Volume 2 Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op.55 “Eroica” (transcr. Liszt) [51:42]
Bagatelles op. 126 (1823-24) [19:55]
Gabriele Baldocci (piano)
rec. 11-12 May 2015, Sant’Apollinare Church, Monticello di Lonigo, Vicenza, Italy. DYNAMIC CDS7771 [71:52]
Volume 1 of this series was welcomed back in 2013 (review) and I am glad to be equally enthusiastic about this second volume. Interest in Beethoven’s symphonies in their transcriptions for piano by Franz Liszt has been growing amongst a number of pianists of late, and I very much enjoyed Yury Martynov’s Symphony No. 9 on the Alpha Classics label (review). Martynov’s recording was made on a mid-19th century Blüthner instrument, and it is a shame that there is no information about the piano used for this Third Symphony as it is clearly a different one that that used for vol. 1, and sounds to have a historic character. Period pianos from Liszt’s time have interesting colour and texture, and in this case the instrument suits the approach towards orchestral timbres very well indeed.
Baldocci certainly makes no compromises in terms of the scale of the work. Picked at random, Abbado’s 2001 Berlin Philharmonic recording comes in around three minutes shorter than Baldocci, largely due to his magnificently sustained performance of the Marcia funebre second movement. This is fearless in its shaping of silence as well as in the building of Beethoven’s remarkable edifice with an expert’s ear for thematic relationships and long arc of harmonic pace. This comes after a first movement filled with highly effective dynamic thrust and subtle shading – I can certainly think of a few orchestral versions over which I would choose this piano version as a desert-island choice.
Baldocci ups the pace for the Scherzo, propelling us with virtuoso momentum but without too much of a feel of helter-skelter rushing, though things can get quite intense when textures thicken. The Finale is one of those fascinating Beethoven creations, a tremendous statement made up from surprisingly banal musical building blocks. Baldocci once again has the measure of this as a feat of architecture, never allowing things to become baggy or over-inflated and keeping us immersed in the narrative, even when Beethoven is seemingly writing, chin in hand, in a transition to the next bit of inspiration.
The Bagatelles are set against the symphony as being – despite the innocence of their title – another of Beethoven’s more revolutionary later creations. The excellent booklet notes by Jessica Duchen suggest that their origins might have something to do with Beethoven’s “much-lauded improvisations,” though by 1823 his deafness would have precluded such performances. Baldocci’s timings are similar to, for instance, Alfred Brendel’s in his various outings for this work, though is more ruminatively exploratory in the Cantabile first and third pieces, more dramatic and driving in the Presto of Op. 126 No. 4.
To sum up, this is a superb recording and performance of both of these works. Comparisons with regard to the Third Symphony are numerous. Idil Biret is impressive on the Naxos/Idil Biret Archive label cat. 8.571263 but not quite as involving as Baldocci, not matching his tension and sense of anticipation in the slower music and quieter passages. Naxos also has its Franz Liszt Edition with Konstantin Scherbakov cat. 8.555354 which I prefer to Biret, but again, Baldocci’s handling of the bigger spans and creating cohesive structures is more memorable, the colour of that mysterious piano also more interesting. The superb Yuri Martynov on Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT336 has a historic piano which is at a greater extreme than Baldocci’s, which goes along with a more overtly romantic view of the music including plenty of rubato. This is a pianist’s version where Baldocci’s is closer to what you might expect to hear from an orchestra in terms of inner flexibility. I know which I prefer for long-term listening, but both interpretations are valid. I suspect Liszt would prefer the more spectacular Martynov, and Beethoven the cerebral depths found by Baldocci.