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Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
The Complete Piano Music - Volume 55: Transcriptions
Andrey Ivanov (piano)
rec. 2019, The Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, UK
NAXOS 8.574149 [81:02]

This is the first of a series of recordings made in cooperation between Naxos and the Birmingham Conservatoire and features the Russian pianist Andrey Ivanov in more of Liszt’s myriad wonderful transcriptions. Almost all of the works on here are rarely recorded or, in the case of the Mendelssohn Wedding March, known only because Horowitz recorded it (sort of - his brilliantly crazy paraphrase was inspired from the work recorded here).

Anyway, the CD begins with Liszt’s transcriptions of music by Eduard Lassen – another unfairly neglected composer who Liszt knew personally, as Lassen succeeded him as music director at Weimar. Lassen’s own music is almost never to be played or recorded although his Violin Concerto, as recorded on Hyperion’s Violin Concerto series is a fabulous work which deserves to be better known (review). The four works here derive from Lassen’s incidental music to Hebbel’s “Nibelungen” and “Faust”. The first piece is a very dark evocation of ‘Hagen and Kriemhild’ and is very Lisztian in tone, full of menacing themes and here, suitably dramatically played. The music itself is also difficult and requires a high level of virtuosity to bring it off – there are plenty of awkward figurations here in both hands but everything is superbly played. After the sinister introduction, the music settles down to something more relaxed and rather whimsical. This is played with some wonderful phrasing and a fine sense of the musical line. The opening music makes a reappearance towards the end of the piece, hinted at in appropriately sinister ways in the bass and the work ultimately ends rather oddly, drifting off into the ether. Track two represents “Bechlarn” and is a bit more straightforward. The left hand accompaniment here is lovely as the tune wends its way around the keyboard in a most charming manner. This work contains a lot of writing in thirds towards the end as the tune gradually disintegrates and gradually winds down to an otherworldly conclusion. This piece deserves to be heard more often as it really is an earworm, and is excellently played here. The following two pieces derive from Faust and first comes a very atmospheric (and difficult to play as it is full of quiet leaps from the left hand to the right) Easter Hymn which gradually grows in power and volume and is made up of various sections subtitled (in the music) as “Chor der Engel”, “Chor der Weiber” and “Chor des Junger”. All this leads up to a powerful and rather finger twisting conclusion but the whole work is deftly handled here. The following piece is absolutely superb and very cheerful – it’s a pompous little Polonaise, full of some wonderful music and some great playing. There is some very charming music around four minutes in which is perfectly controlled. This whole piece is full of earworm tunes and I really do urge you to listen to it as its joie di vivre is very infectious. It’s wonderfully played here, especially the closing pages, which are full of virtuosity.

The Symphonic Intermezzo from “Uber allen Zauber Liebe” by Lassen was transcribed by Liszt in 1883. It’s a very Lisztian and Wagnerian piece, full of odd harmonies and not short of difficulties for the pianist; it’s also a splendid work full of memorable music and I’d really like to hear the orchestral version of it. There are lots of complex cross rhythms to deal with here and some very long passages of tremelandos for the right hand which are extremely tiring to play but nothing seems to phase Mr. Ivanov. The opening music is quite ceremonial but about a minute and three quarters in, the atmosphere changes to a rather wonderful quieter variation of the opening music, with some rather intriguing harmonies thrown in. The work is arranged sort of like a set of variations of increasing complexity and passion, interspersed with more reflective moments. Lassen was obviously a Liszt fan as his music contains many similarities to the older Hungarian’s late works, so, rather like Liszt, Lassen tends to leave “holes” in the music between contrasting episodes which could lead it to sound disjointed, but here Mr. Ivanov judges them perfectly and so you don’t notice. The closing minutes of the piece contain some very peaceful music, full of strange harmonies before perking up noticeably for a loud but harmonically odd conclusion. This is a super performance of this work, full of drama and the quieter moments are beautifully played.

Not much is known about the operatic aria with a sketched variation – not even the date. Nonetheless, it’s a rather charming little creation and is splendidly played here - it’s just a shame that it was left incomplete by Liszt.

Liszt’s infamous (in its time) fantasy on Meyerbeer’s Robert the Devil (recorded on Naxos’s vol.40 by Sergio Gallo (review) perhaps prompted him to write out the tiny album leaf recorded as track 7 – either that, or it predates the much longer work. It is a fragment and doesn’t really go anywhere but is nicely played and considerably easier than playing the whole ‘Reminiscences’ whence it derives.

I’ve always preferred the early version of the Lucrezia Borgia fantasy and having tried to play it myself, I can vouch for its numerous difficulties. This is the work that later evolved into the slightly more familiar two part version which was recorded by William Wolfram on his earlier volume of this series (volume 27, review). This particular piece is feared for its innumerable difficulties and rightly so, as it seems as though Liszt put his whole gamut of technical difficulties into the work. The opening gradually builds in difficulty and contains some very dramatic and powerful music derived from the opera; however, this calms down and the middle section brings some respite for the pianist. Despite the slower tempo, there is still a lot of work for the pianist to do but the sense of peace here is perfectly captured. This quiet, more reflective mood doesn’t last for long as before long as the music from the Duo finale of the opera is referenced and embroidered with appropriate pyrotechnical difficulties. This is a splendid work and is only not often played due to its ferocious technical demands – all of which are met here with innate musicality. It really is superb that someone is able to play this as well as it is here, the drama of the opening comes across perfectly and there is no indication that the piece is causing Mr. Ivanov any difficulties whatsoever. There use of pedalling is excellent throughout, no details are smudged or fudged and the music is presented marvellously. I particularly like the pointing up of the tune as it occurs in various guises all over the keyboard. The clarity in the descending runs is incredible and the spiky passages in thirds are brought off magnificently and very brightly – none of this is at all easy to play.
 
I’ve always liked the “Valse a capriccio”, it was published as the third of the “Trois Valse Caprice” (the earlier two (the “Valse di bravoure” and the “Valse Melancolique”) having been recorded on volume 49 of this series by the superb Goran Filipec (review). Anyway, the piece is very clever and interesting in structure: the themes from “Lucia” and “Parisina” are combined, linked and at one point towards the end, played in counterpoint to one another. The overall effect is of a really charming and wonderful little work which is relatively well known. Here, it is performed stunningly well and this recording has become my new favourite rendition of this piece due to its wit and élan.

Weber’s incidental music from the play Preciosa by Cervantes is barely known at all but from it Liszt transcribes this beautiful little piece mostly in D major. The atmosphere here is relaxed but this transcription requires a lot of careful pedalling to maintain the tune. There are also a lot of quiet figurations in the right hand but the playing, here, as elsewhere is exemplary and everything works perfectly.

In contrast to the reflective nature of the Weber transcription, the final piece on the disc is the virtuosic paraphrase of Mendelssohn’s wedding march but with some added difficulties included as he references various other parts of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, mostly in the form of the Elves dance heard in the overture. The opening is suitably joyful and full of witty touches, derived from the March itself. This treated to some wonderfully mad variations with some very difficult pianism required before the music reaches a sort of conclusion and the atmosphere changes. This is brought about via rather grand tune from the overture which serves as a bridge to the Elven music which spins off after a long trill at 6’45’’. However, after a short statement of that, Liszt cleverly brings back hints of the march which ultimately leads to a rather impressive and virtuosic conclusion to the piece. Everything here is played absolutely spot on: the middle section with the Elves dance is suitably mercurial and the March music is appropriately virtuosic and happy.

This is a marvellously recorded disc by a superb pianist who clearly has a fine musical sense, the technique to deal with some of Liszt’s horribly difficult paraphrases and the ability to play with great feeling elsewhere where required. The recording is extremely clear and captures the nuances of Mr. Ivanov’s playing perfectly. The cover notes are interesting and shed light on some of the more obscure musical figures whose music that Liszt chose to transcribe. All I have to say is that this is already one of my favourite CDs of the year so far. I urge you to go out and buy it, even if you aren’t really a Liszt fan, as it shows you the amazing abilities of the composer to translate orchestral works into viable piano pieces and furthermore it showcases a very talented pianist who deserves to become very well known.  Full marks to all concerned - and I am already looking forward to his next CD.

Jonathan Welsh

Contents
Aus der Musik von Eduard Lassen zu Hebbels Nibelungen und Goethes Faust: I. Nibelungen, S.496 no.1 (11:45); II. Faust, S.496 no.2 (13:29)
Symphonisches Zwischenspiel (Intermezzo) zu Calderons Schauspiel Über allen Zauber Liebe von Eduard Lassen, S.497 (13:34)
Operatic Aria and Sketched Variation, S.701h/1 (fragment) (0:55)
Meyerbeer - Robert le diable: Valse infernale, S.701h/2 (fragment) (0:15)
Fantaisie sur des motifs favoris de Lucrezia Borgia de Donizetti, S.400 (1st version of Réminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia: II. Chanson à Boire - (Orgie) Duo - Finale) (14:41)
Donizetti - Valse à capriccio sur deux motifs de Lucia et Parisina, S.401 no.3 (9:53)
Weber - Preciosa: Einsam bin ich, nicht alleine, S.453 (5:28)
Mendelssohn - A Midsummer Night's Dream: Wedding March and Dance of the Fairies, S.410 (10:16)



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