I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Transcendental Liszt in double

Franz Liszt: Etudes d’exécution transcendante, S.139
Kirill Gerstein, piano
Myrios MYR019, SACD hybrid (64 min)

“Transcendental”
Franz Liszt: Etudes d’exécution transcendante, S.139; Two Concert Etudes, S.145; Three Concert Etudes, S.144; Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S.141

Daniil Trifonov, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 5529 0 – 2 CD (66:04 & 51:24 min)

Franz Liszt most likely had his bit of fun when he published his Etudes d’exécution transcendante. Although his final edition from 1852 may be more accessible than its earlier incarnation, as is well known even these aren’t studies for the beginner or the advanced amateur, but fiendishly difficult pieces (Daniil Trifonov describes them as “technically challenging poems” or “existential meditations”) for virtuoso pianists at the top of their game, and then some. Performing all 12 Etudes live in concert has long remained a rare feat, still both pianists considered here have successfully accomplished this several times. It wasn’t so long ago that the Etudes were the exclusive domain of mature Liszt specialists who tackled them on disc as the crowning achievement in this repertoire. Yet, Kirill Gerstein is 36, Daniil Trifonov is barely 25, and these are their first Liszt-only discs. Times are changing.

These new discs recorded in the studio are superb achievements by any means and can be recommended wholeheartedly. Both Russian pianists share an irresistible joy of performing. They traverse the Etudes with seemingly effortless ease and find a convincing balance between jaw-dropping virtuosity and inspired musicality, drawing attention to the lasting value of Liszt’s oeuvre as the invention of the modern piano. Needless to say, there are differences too. Moreover, Trifonov’s generous “Transcendental” set for DG also gives us the 5 Concert Etudes and the Grandes Etudes de Paganini on a second disc.

Transcendental etudes

Gerstein performs Liszt

Kirill Gerstein is an intelligent, inquisitive musician. (He recently also set the record straight regarding the score of Tchaikovsky’s famous First Piano Concerto.) Gerstein clearly sees the Etudes as a coherent cycle to be played as a complete set, starting with the virtuosic try-out of the keyboard in the Preludio and culminating in the truly transcendental, modernist sonorities created in Chasse-Neige. Gerstein’s structural grip is obvious when considering the pieces individually, especially the more elaborate ones like Mazeppa, Ricordanza (in a terrific rendering), Harmonies du soir and Chasse-Neige, but is even more impressive when the cycle is heard in its entirety. As he explains in the informative interview published in the booklet of this Myrios release, it helps coming to grips with the Etudes by thinking of them as a collection of pairs, not just tonally but also by character. This approach sheds new light on the cycle, creating extra dramatic contrast.

Transcendental

Transcendental by Daniil Trifonov

While Daniil Trifonov also performs the complete Etudes d’exécution transcendante in concert, in this recording I was less struck by the coherence of the cycle than in Gerstein’s hands. Arguably most listeners won’t be bothered by this, because Trifonov’s pianism is such a stunner (he is more controlled and above all more accurate in the studio than live, and is also slightly better served by the engineers than Gerstein). His remains a tremendously exciting journey, always articulate and brilliantly colorful, but by his seemingly impromptu approach the individual character of the pieces tends to dominate the bigger architecture. Trifonov can be very theatrical, allying telling silences with fierce attacks or dazzling fusées, but I missed some of the gravitas that Gerstein sensitively conveys in the more melancholic passages. However, where Trifonov remains unequalled is by the lightness and transparency of his textures, weaving these ultra-delicate but flexible tapestries of sound in notably Paysage and Feux follets, as well as in the lyrical Concert Etudes La Leggierezza and Il Sospiro, and the impressionistic Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen. He also makes a very strong case for the underrated Paganini Etudes, including a very refined rendition of La Campanella, a marvelously handled Arpeggio and an eloquent La Chasse.

In short, these are utterly rewarding releases, new frontrunners in this repertoire that deserve a place in every serious Liszt or piano collection.

Copyright © 2016, Marc Haegeman


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Halloween in London

Ludwig van Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #2 in A Major
Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tugan Sokhiev
London, Royal Festival Hall, 30 October 2014

Beethoven, Liszt and Berlioz formed an explosive Romantic trio in the hands of Tugan Sokhiev and the Philharmonia Orchestra in this London concert. The opening moments of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture made it clear that this wasn’t going to be an evening for relaxation. The Roman general’s dilemma was initially brushed with such muscular vigor and dark colors it made you wonder whether he was ever going to give in. It was quite a large-scaled formation for Beethoven, too, but Sokhiev has been a regular guest with the Philharmonia Orchestra and easily carved a convincing balance and lightness of texture, preventing our hero from tipping from grand into heavy.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Lutosławski, Liszt and Tchaikovsky in Paris

Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #2 in A Major, S. 125
Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Suite #3 in G Major, Op. 55

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Orchestre de Paris/Andrey Boreyko
Paris, Salle Pleyel, 12 June 2013

Paris celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Polish composer and conductor Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) with a series of concerts, performed by local and invited ensembles throughout the year. The Orchestre de Paris has worked on different occasions with the composer and revives a couple of his works. The Concerto for Orchestra, dating from 1950-54, remains one of his most popular works. For the occasion, at the Paris Salle Pleyel, it was somewhat awkwardly squeezed into a program which also featured Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, with Khatia Buniatishvili as soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Third Suite.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Hungarian Magic

Antonino Pasculli: Concerto on Themes from Donizetti’s “La Favorita”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Oboe & Orchestra in C Major, K. 314
Franz Liszt: A Faust-Symphony

François Leleux, oboe
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 6 March 2013

The Budapest Festival Orchestra is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Under the guidance of maestro Iván Fischer (co-founder with Zoltán Kocsis), the orchestra not only established itself as one of Hungary’s foremost cultural entities, it also went on to cut a strong profile on the international stage. The program they offered in Brussels was delightfully unusual and of the highest level throughout. Starting with a small oboe festival with pieces from the little-known Pasculli and Mozart, featuring the high-spirited François Leleux as soloist, it was the rarely heard Faust-Symphony from Franz Liszt which acted as the focal point of the evening.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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She came, she played, and she conquered

Franz Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor
Frédéric Chopin: Ballade #4, Piano Sonata #2
Serge Prokofieff: Piano Sonata #7

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Paris, Salle Pleyel, 19 November 2012

Since I first attended a solo recital by Khatia Buniatishvili in the smallish auditorium of the Cité de la Musique in Paris, hardly ten months ago, things have been going fast for the 25-year old Georgian pianist. Meanwhile she released her second solo CD (Sony 97129), media attention has soared, she was awarded the German “Echo Klassik” prize for most promising artist, and above all she has been touring extensively throughout Europe, and also recently San Francisco and Japan – either as soloist, with orchestras or as member of chamber music formations joining distinguished colleagues like Gidon Kremer, Truls Mørk and Renaud Capuçon. Buniatishvili had played Pleyel before in a concert with the Orchestre de Paris. But until now the big hurdle of a solo recital in the most prestigious concert venue in the French capital – which is currently her hometown – still needed to be taken. On 19 November it was taken, and how.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Buniatishvili in Paris

Franz Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, Mephisto Waltz #1
Frédéric Chopin: Scherzi #1, 2 & 3
Igor Stravinsky: Three Movements from Petrushka

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Paris, Cité de la Musique, 5 January 2012

While most pianists would conclude their recital with the Sonata from Franz Liszt, Khatia Buniatishvili, at the Cité de la Musique in Paris, choose to open with it. She is a fearless performer. Focused and intense – this mysterious sotto voce opening seems even more daunting when it has to form the first sound to resonate in the hall – she is sure to grab your attention from the very first bars and never really let go. You may first notice the speed, the vehemence, the electrifying energy, the occasional risk-taking, too, but pretty soon she also wins you over with her thorough control of sound and color (in spite of a none too flattering instrument provided by the Cité de la Musique), her unerring ability to really nail the key notes during the hardest passages, her dramatic presentation and the utterly romantic sweep that kicks Liszt back to life. In any case, Khatia Buniatishvili doesn’t take any prisoners, but I guess most in the audience would have been willing to give their lives. She possesses the freedom to shape this music at will, yet the good news is she has a clear idea of how to use that freedom and while she may occasionally throw in a few flashes to reinforce the message, musicality prevails over empty rhetoric and circus display.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Harmonies du soir from Nelson Freire

Franz Liszt:
Waldesrauschen (Zwei Konzertetüden, S. 145 #1)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie, S. 161 #5)
Valse oubliée in F Sharp Major, S. 215 #1
Ballade #2 in B minor, S. 171
Au lac de Wallenstadt (Années de pèlerinage, Première année: Suisse, S. 160 #2)
Hungarian Rhapsody #3 in B Flat Major, S. 244 #3
Six Consolations, S. 172
Harmonies du soir (Douze Études d’exécution transcendante, S. 139 #11)

Nelson Freire, piano
Decca 4782728 DDD

Nelson Freire

Harmonies du soir from Nelson Freire

With his new CD appropriately titled “Harmonies du soir” Nelson Freire brings a magnificent homage to Franz Liszt’s bicentenary. In a smart and beautifully recorded recital the Brazilian pianist browses Liszt’s career and highlights with impeccable style various sides of the composer’s multifaceted output. Founded on a spotless technique, Freire’s playing is characterized by elegance, clarity and warmth. He finds a stunning array of colors and moods, while his spontaneous approach ensures that we hear even the more familiar pieces of this handpicked program with fresh ears. There is no way to suspect his Liszt of bombast or showiness and even if some of the music can grow pretty stormy, Freire never forces the issue but always places sensibility before outward glitter. It is Liszt seen by a mature artist and it is compelling from start to end.
Read the full review on Classical Net