Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Consolations (6), S172/R12 (1st version) [19:25]
Madrigal: Consolation No. 1, "Album Leaf", S171b (fragment) [0:30]
Sposalizio (1st version) [7:21]
Prolégomènes à la Divina Commedia: Après une lecture de Dante, fantasia quasi sonata (2nd version, S158b/R10b) [16:02]
Ballade No. 2, in B Minor (1st version), S170a [12:46]
Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke, Mephisto Waltzer (No. 1), S514/R181, (revised version) [13:35]
Goran Filipec (piano)
rec. 2017, Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile, Italy
NAXOS 8.573794 [70:02]
This massive Naxos project, now reaching to Volume 51 here, is perhaps just half finished at this point, if it is in fact to include all solo works as well the seventeen for piano and orchestra by Liszt. For his exhaustive series on Hyperion, Leslie Howard recorded ninety-nine CDs as a tentative completion, then added four supplemental discs, the last and presumably final one issued in October, 2018. Need I say that Liszt was a busy composer—he also wrote a huge body of orchestral, choral, vocal and other instrumental works. For this project Naxos has chosen many different pianists from their huge reserve of keyboard talent and this is the third entry by Goran Filipec. He appeared on Volumes 42 and 49, the latter reviewed by me here in October 2018. I was favorably impressed by the performances on that recording.
Regarding the disc at hand, some might charge that the repertory it contains is a collection of mostly early drafts by a composer still finding his way. There’s perhaps more than a grain of truth in that, but early versions aren’t necessarily inferior versions or weak compositions. Indeed, some listeners will prefer certain early renditions to later ones, though as a general rule, it’s fair to say that when Liszt revised (which he so often did) he usually improved on the original, but not always substantially. Please note that this disc also contains a couple of mature pieces, which I’ll get to shortly.
The manuscript of the original version of the Consolations is a late 20th century unearthing. When Leslie Howard gave the premiere recording of these six pieces in 1995, he referred to them in the album notes as “recently published for the first time.” The later versions feature fairly extensive revisions and an entirely different No. 3. Except for No. 6, the early versions are comparatively plainspoken and a bit less intimate in mood than their later and more popular counterparts. Still, they are quite good.
The Album leaf, ‘Première Consolation’, is a fragment based on the first Consolation, and likely dates to around 1850. The Sposalizio here, from 1838-39, is the first version of the piece, the better known rendition coming in 1849 as No. 1 in Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième Année, ‘Italie.’ The Prolégomènes à la Divina Commedia: Après une lecture de Dante, fantasia quasi sonata dates to 1839 and is the second of four versions of what would become better known as the ‘Dante Sonata.’ There are many differences between this and the final version, most noticeably in the latter half.
This Ballade No. 2, circa 1853, is actually not that different from the second and final version: this first version has a faster coda and lacks a couple of eight-bar phrases added to the later rendition near the end. The concluding work, Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke, from 1859, is better known as the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 and, like the Ballade No. 2, is obviously not an early composition. It is the one piece here that is both very popular and widely recognized as a masterpiece. But this rendition has some additions that Liszt fashioned in about 1862 and Naxos labels the work as the “revised version.” I think this is therefore the S514a version of the piece. It is about two minutes longer than the average account of S514 and most of the additional material comes about midway through, extending the calmer, slower middle section and adding to the feeling of mystery and repose.
Perhaps because this version of the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 is a bit more poetic and less driven than the more familiar, somewhat shorter one, it may have led Goran Filipec to deliver a relatively restrained performance of it. While he’s not low on excitement, he is more elegant and less demonic than many other pianists in this work. Overall, his view of the piece is very convincing though. Filipec’s accounts of the six Consolations are also quite compelling: he plays them with consistently brisk tempos and infuses them with vivid color and a bit more brightness, thanks to his subtle phrasing, in particular his deft nuances in dynamics. For the sake of comparison I should mention he is significantly faster in all six pieces than Leslie Howard, who is hardly a laggard in his pacing. The half-minute Albumblatt ‘Première Consolation’ is a nice morsel here, but it seems to end just when it starts going somewhere.
Sposalizio is a beautiful piece even in this early rendition, and Filipec delivers a poignant, fluid account, his velvety softer dynamics seeming to caress the notes to yield such lovely poetry. The early version of the Dante Sonata also gets a fine performance from Filipec: his dynamics once again are fully sensitive to the emotional flow of the music, while his tempos are generally quite brisk throughout and his technique hardly challenged by this very difficult piece. This is a dazzling and colourful performance; truly outstanding. The Ballade No.2 is another splendid effort here: the music has always struck me as a mixture of the sinister and angelic, and Filipec deftly captures both those opposing sides, seamlessly moving from menacing swirls in the bass regions that seem to portend doom to a heavenly serenity and then grand triumph, all the while sounding confidently unchallenged by the considerable technical demands of the piece.
Naxos offers vivid sound reproduction. Filipec is a great pianistic talent and anyone interested in this mostly early Liszt repertoire won’t be disappointed by this disc.