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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
New Discoveries - Volume 4 ‘Rêves et fantaisies’
(Full track listing below)
Leslie Howard (piano)
rec. 2017, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
HYPERION CDA68247 [74:35]

This is the fourth volume and fifth CD of ‘new discoveries’ (the third volume having contained two discs): all these works still lay undiscovered when Leslie Howard finished the historic Liszt ‘complete’ solo piano music boxed-set issued in 2011. So this release is another supplement to that edition, which now stands at 100 CDs in total. As before it is a collection of first thoughts, alternative versions and once-lost works: all can reasonably be claimed as first recordings. An idea of the labour that lies behind some of these discoveries is given by the pianist’s note relating to the last item on the disc, a transcription of an unknown original called Kavallerie-Geschwindmarsch, which states:

“It is the single most elusive publication from Liszt’s lifetime, and has defeated many a collector and editor over the years. It is listed in all the catalogues, but nobody had seen the score for upwards of a century, it seemed. The indefatigable Michael Short (may God bless him!) tracked it down after 33 years of searching as part of his monumental work on a thematic catalogue of Liszt’s complete works (in collaboration with the present writer), in a library in Christchurch, New Zealand!”

But it also described by Howard as “full of amusement and delightful unimportance”. So is the disc all like that? Do we have anything more than amusing but unimportant chips from the Lisztian workshop? Far from it. True the ‘Bülow-Marsch’ is described in the notes as “a very fine composer having a bad day at the office!”. But the very first item, much the longest on the disc, is a real find – a twenty-third Hungarian Rhapsody no less. There is some thematic kinship with the ‘First Hungarian Rhapsody’, but this revenant is much longer and more developed; indeed at nearly 22 minutes it is apparently the longest of any of Liszt’s works in that genre. It is, then, a piece that is not in a hurry; it casts a spell with a long slow opening section, improvisatory in feeling with many a scale and tremolo – Leslie Howard produces some delightful, bird-like trills here, in a most persuasive account. By definition, these pieces have no performing tradition for the artist to draw upon, but Howard makes each item sound as if it is the only way it could go.

The earlier versions of La Lugubre Gondola, Angelus, Cypresses at the Villa d’Este, and the transcription of Berlioz’s Dance of the Sylphs are all enjoyable enough in themselves, and fascinating if you know the final versions. As ever, Howard’s notes are very illuminating on the relation to other versions and on the choices the artist himself has to make when preparing a piece for recording. The various ‘Album-Leaves’ and very short pieces that have turned up are each worth hearing, if only once or twice. But there is also here an eight-minute-plus torso of an operatic fantasy which is another thing altogether. Howard observes that had this Fantasy on Rossini’s Maometto Secondo been finished, it “would probably have turned out as one of the great ones”. Certainly it is based throughout the surviving text on one of the score’s finest passages, the chorus in Act One ‘Responda a te primiero’, which is made to yield a variety of pianistic elaborations that never submerges its essential nobility (one of Liszt’s own musical traits after all.)

The recording is as excellent as Hyperion working in Potton Hall usually produces for this series, and Leslie Howard’s notes on the music are almost as revealing as his playing of it. As ever, Howard treats Liszt as a musician of high eloquence and integrity, never a flashy showman. So who is this disc for? It has obvious claims on the Liszt obsessive, the completist and the collector (the third type being an amalgam of the first two perhaps); and those who like me regard Liszt the pianist, conductor, composer, and staunch supporter of other artists, as the central musical figure in the whole of the 19th century. It is wonderful that he was so productive, and so relentless in his reworkings of his first ideas, that we can still hear ‘new pieces’ by him more than 130 years after he died. Perverse as it might seem, I am tempted to cry “more, please”!

Roy Westbrook

1.Magyar Rapszódiák – Rapsodies hongroises – Ungarische Rhapsodien No 23 in C sharp minor 'Rêves et fantaisies' S242/23 [21'54]
2.Preludio funebre S205b [1'37]
3.La lugubre gondola S199a/ii [7'13]
4.Bülow-Marsch S229b [3'53]
5.Dem Andenken Petőfis S195ii [5'42]
6.Den Schutz-Engeln 'Angelus' S162a/I [3'08]
7.Den Zypressen der Villa d'Este [I] S162b/1 [4'20]
8.Album-Leaf 'Aus dem Mephisto-Walzer' S167m/2 [3'36]
9.Danse des sylphes de La damnation de Faust de Hector Berlioz S474a [4'32]
10.Maometto II de Rossini 'Fantaisie' S421b [8'34]
11.Album-Leaf 'Düsseldorf Preludio' S163f/2 [0'46]
12.Album-Leaf 'Ave Maria' S164q [0'55]
13.Album-Leaf 'Dublin' S164r [0'17]
14.Album-Leaf 'An die Künstler I' S166t/1 [0'27]
15.Album-Leaf 'An die Künstler II' S166t/2 [0'31]
16.Largo en si mineur S692p/1 [1'56]
17.Essai sur l'indifference S692p/2 [1'16]
18.Klavierstück in es-Moll S692n [0'57]
19.Kavallerie-Geschwindmarsch S460 [2'53]

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