Notes and Editorial Reviews
Album d’un Voyageur,
Ashley Wass (pn)
NAXOS 8.570768 (78:47)
With several fine recordings of the Swiss book of
Années de pelèrinage
out recently—Libor Novacek’s (Landor 290) and André Laplante’s (Analekta 9980) come to mind—it’s a special pleasure to encounter this fine recording of the precursor to Liszt’s 1855
Album d’un voyageur.
The remarkable young British pianist Ashley Wass has coupled the
with another rarely heard early work, the
for his latest Naxos release. Wass, who is 33, has an impressive number of recordings under his belt. He has focused attention on the piano music of several British composers not generally known for their keyboard works, including Bax, Bridge, Alwyn, and Elgar. His recording of Vaughn Williams’s formidable piano concerto (Naxos 8.572304) is one of the finest around. This new CD amply demonstrates that Wass is also a seasoned and perceptive Liszt player, possessing all the requisite poetic instincts, rhetorical versatility, and pianistic finesse.
Liszt composed all these works in his mid-20s. The
Album d’un voyageur
heard here is actually the first of three books so called, this one subtitled
Impressions et poésies
. It’s difficult to characterize in a few words the differences between the
and the more familiar Swiss
, published after Liszt had settled in Weimar. The contents of the earlier set—
Lyon, Le Lac de Wallenstadt, Au Bord d’une source, Les Cloches de G(enève), Vallée d’Obermann, La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell,
Psaume (de l’église à Genève)
Première année: Suisse,
would become in the later version
Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, Au Lac de Wallenstadt, Pastorale, Au Bord d’une source, Orage, Vallée d’Obermann, Églogue, Le Mal du pays,
Les Cloches de Genève
. Wass plunges into the turbulent
with unalloyed gusto. He approaches the work unapologetically, meeting its considerable virtuoso demands with alacrity. The rhetorical transitions between heroism and pathos are negotiated credibly and naturally. Moreover, Wass brings great clarity to the complex textures of
(no small feat on the modern piano) in a way that reveals the fervent eloquence of this most politically revolutionary of Liszt’s works.
Le Lac de Wallenstadt
Au Bord d’une source
, differing in only small details from their final versions, are played with a superb calm that heightens their poetic imagery.
Les Cloches de G(enève), Vallée d’Obermann
La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell
, so different here from their final form in the
, provide a fascinating glimpse into Liszt’s evolving musical imagination. While I doubt that anyone will prefer these earlier versions to their definitive forms, Wass makes an extraordinarily persuasive case for these younger conceptions, in and of themselves. He is able to do so, not least of all, because he is everywhere master of the significantly greater technical demands required by their beautiful and effective pianistic effects, many of which were later pruned and streamlined for the 1855 version.
Nothing in early (or late) Chopin or Schumann remotely resembles the remarkable harmonic and rhythmic audacity of Liszt’s 1834
Even had these works been recorded more often, Wass’s interpretations would no doubt dwarf the competition. Here, as in the seven
pieces, his unqualified embrace of the music elucidates its very heart. Particularly effective is the last piece,
Fantaisie sur une valse de F. Schubert
, something of an embryonic
Soirée de Vienne
. As Wass plays it, it is as though the little Schubert waltz were recalled in a dream. Quite apart from his taste and discernment as a Liszt interpreter, Wass’s new recording may be appreciated as simply exquisite piano playing. Nor should it escape note that, for Liszt recordings during the 2011 bicentennial year, Wass has set the qualitative bar very high indeed.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
Works on This Recording
Apparitions (3), S 155 by Franz Liszt
Ashley Wass (Piano)
Written: 1834; Paris, France
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