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Liszt: Wagner And Weber Transcriptions / Steven Mayer

Liszt / Mayer,Steven
Release Date: 04/26/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570562   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LISZT Wagner Transcriptions. WEBER-LISZT Oberon: Overture Steven Mayer (pn) NAXOS 8.570562 (67:32)

Tannhäuser: Overture ; O du mein holder Abendstern; Einzug der Gäste auf Wartburg. Die Meistersinger: Am stillen Herd. Der Ring des Read more Nibelungen: Walhall

The year after Hyperion’s 1985 announcement of a project to record all Liszt’s piano music with Leslie Howard, Naxos unveiled its own complete Liszt piano music series. The Hyperion project, originally conceived as 48 CDs, was completed in 1999, and has recently been released as a 99-CD set, including supplemental volumes of late-breaking discoveries. Unlike the Hyperion set, the Naxos series has used a variety of pianists. During the past 24 years, 33 discs have appeared, among them some real gems. The Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen inaugurated the series auspiciously with the solo Totentanz, the transcription of Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, the Grande fantaisie sur Les Huguenots, and other works (Naxos 553852). In 1996 Kemal Geki?’s performance of a number of Rossini transcriptions, including what is probably the best recording of the William Tell Overture, was released (Naxos 553961). Jean Dubé’s nuanced and subtle delivery of the two polonaises is also in the running for best-on-record of those difficult pieces; that disc also features the two ballades and the more than slightly outrageous Trois Morceaux Suisses , which Dubé tosses off with tremendous élan and sparkling technique (Naxos 557364). Giuseppe Andaloro’s diabolically bracing readings of the four Mephisto Waltzes share a disc with the two Élégies and an eloquent, spacious, and poetic Grosses Konzertsolo (Naxos 557814). The talented British pianists Leon McCawley and Ashley Wass recorded Liszt’s two-piano transcription of the Beethoven Ninth in 1997, which is a knock-out both musically and pianistically (Naxos 570466). Last year Wass recorded performances of the Impressions et Poésies book of Album d’un voyaguer and another of the more significant early works, Apparitions, displaying enormous pianistic finesse and imagination (Naxos 570768).

The 33rd and latest volume in the Naxos Liszt series presents the fascinating American pianist Steven Mayer in a program of Wagner and Weber transcriptions. Mayer’s bona fides as a Liszt player of distinction have long been established. His 1991 recording, called Liszt vs. Thalberg , was built around pieces played by the two contending virtuosi at the famous “musical duel,” part of a benefit concert in Paris sponsored by Cristina Belgiojoso in 1837. In addition to Thalberg’s Fantasy on Themes from Rossini’s Moses , Mayer recorded Liszt’s Niobe Fantasy , and his solo transcription of the Weber Konzertstück. Though difficult to obtain these days, it is well worth the effort to locate (ASV 783). After Jay Rosenblatt discovered and published the Concerto in E?, op. post.—usually referred to these days as Concerto No. 3—Mayer was among the first pianists to record the work. In collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Támas Vasáry, the disc also presented the first recordings of the De Profundis and the 1853 version of the Totentanz (ASV 778).

Judging from Mayer’s richly atmospheric and perfectly gauged performances, he must have lived with and reflected on the Wagner transcriptions for years. My favorites are the Recitative and Romance (“Song of the Evening Star’) from Tannhäuser and Am stillen Herd from Meistersinger . Mayer’s interpretation of Wolfram’s aria is a model of unaffected, heartfelt sentiment articulated with the utmost delicacy. His exquisite cantabile style is demonstrated in the grace with which he holds the line aloft, without neglecting the subtlest harmonic colors of the underpinning accompaniment. Liszt’s near-ecstatic peroration on Walther’s Am stillen Herd is delivered with appropriate abandon, in a delicious evocation of the naive enthusiasm and ardor of the young knight. No less convincing is the Entrance of the Guests into the Wartburg, in which the bustle and excitement of the crowd, punctuated by trumpet flourishes, is almost palpable. Any recording of the mighty Tannhäuser Overture, one of Liszt’s most inspired orchestral transcriptions and certainly among the most difficult, is bound to invite comparison with the readings of two other pianists, Benno Moiseiwitsch and Jorge Bolet, who made a specialty of the piece. If Mayer’s approach does not equal Moiseiwitsch’s coloristic brilliance or Bolet’s vision of unfolding drama, it is nevertheless a superbly convincing performance, unerringly musical, with deft renderings of the often complex textures and a tremendous momentum propelling the music forward. The Oberon transcription is one of three Liszt made of Weber’s opera overtures in 1846. This performance is as fresh and poised as the orchestral original, providing an extra dimension to a fine selection of Liszt’s loving transcriptions of German opera.

This is a welcome addition to the Naxos series, and one of the finer ones to date. It is a pleasure to encounter again the estimable artistry of Steven Mayer, a pianist from whom we can only hope to hear more. Warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

Overture to Wagner's "Tannhäuser", S 442 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848; Weimar, Germany 
Abendstern Aria from Wagner's "Tannhäuser", S 444 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Weimar, Germany 
Entrance of the Guests from Wagner's "Tannhäuser", S 445 no 1 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1852; Weimar, Germany 
Am stillen Herd, from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger", S 448 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Weimar, Germany 
Walhall (Paraphrase on themes from Wagner's "Ring"), S 449 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1876; Weimar, Germany 
Weber's "Der Freischütz" Overture for Piano, S 575 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Steven Mayer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1846; Hungary 

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