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Liszt: Annees De Pelerinage, Christmas Tree - Books 2 & 3 / Lowenthal

Release Date: 11/09/2010 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9307  
Composer:  Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome LowenthalCarmel Lowenthal
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LISZT Années de pélerinage (complete). _Album d’un voyageur, S 156: Les Cloches de G*****. Weihnachtsbaum, S 186 : Books II and III 1 Jerome Lowenthal, 1 Carmel Lowenthal (pn) BRIDGE 9307 (3 CDs: 178:17)

For an acclaimed artist who has been before the public for 65 years, Jerome Lowenthal’s discography is notably sparse. An album of Liszt paraphrases at the end of the vinyl era—magnificent performances in distressingly poor sound (RCA ARL1-3993, Fanfare 5:2; see also “Second Time Around,” Fanfare 11:1)—whetted the appetite for more, though the Sinding miniatures that followed were not quite what one had in mind. The Tchaikovsky piano concertos, with Comissiona and the LSO—including the first version of the B?-Minor—(reissued as Bridge 9301, Fanfare 33:2), appeared at the end of the 80s and should have given Lowenthal carte blanche in the digital age. A decade on, his way with Bartók’s Out of Doors and other pieces (ProPiano PPR224515, Fanfare 21:5) prompted admiring comments from Peter J. Rabinowitz. Contemporary with the present offering, performances of Debussy’s En Blanc et noir and Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen (Cedille CR 90000 119, Fanfare 34: 3) with Ursula Oppens drew high praise from Phillip Scott. Though rare, Lowenthal’s recorded performances are always distinguished, estimable, and different.

Prefacing the years of pilgrimage, Lowenthal gives us Les Cloches de G***** , quite another, effusively expansive, piece that provided the germ of the briefer, more straightforward, and far more effective Les Cloches de Genève concluding the Suisse année . Beneath Lowenthal’s fingers it is taut and telling—almost viable—in comparison with Leslie Howard’s rambling account ( Album d’un voyager , Hyperion CDA 66601). Curiously, the recital ends with Lowenthal partnering his daughter, Carmel, in eight of the dozen pieces of Weihnachtsbaum in Liszt’s piano duo arrangement. “They are divided into three books, the first of which, containing simple transcriptions of Christmas carols, is of only moderate interest. Beginning with the second book, however, the music is entirely representative of late-Liszt’s audacity.” Perhaps so, perhaps so ... But why must Liszt always be audacious? When the rapport illuminating this fare is so close, why not have carols, too, jolly and meditative by turns? For those who must have the entire work, similarly attuned performances by Erzsébet Tusa and István Lantos are well worth tracking down (nla Hungaroton HCD 12676-2, Fanfare 2:3 and 10:4).

Throughout the Années , their grandeurs, charms, and miseries loom with prodigious reliability. Orage has been more tempestuous and Vallée d’Obermann more anguishing—in the latter, Lowenthal is impetuous, almost impatient, less Hamlet than Hotspur—but they’re never less than engaging. Sposalizio and the Sonnets are deftly wonderstruck. Venezia e Napoli abound in carnivalesque riot, all dimpled with nuance and rife with color. One readily admits Lowenthal as an avuncular addition to the pantheon of other Années intégrales which have held their place in one’s affections, if not in the catalog, over the years—Berman’s (Deutsche Grammophon 437 206, the 1977 Melodiya recordings), Ciccolini’s (EMI 67906, Fanfare 30: 5), Rubackyté’s (Lyrinx LYR 2216, Fanfare 28:2), Jeffrey Swann’s (Hunt Akademia 2 CDAK 108, Fanfare 13:6), Gunnar Johansen’s (long-playing Artist Direct 5, 6, 7, Fanfare 6:4)—when surprises jolt one’s already warm emotional temperature and esteem several notches upward. The “Dante” Sonata, traversing the gamut from lurid coruscations to radiant scintillance, seizes one by the ears, so to speak. And the whole of the Troisième Année —peremptory, fierce, ecstatic, mordant, limned in plangent clangtint—holds one spellbound. The tolling lamentation of the Cypresses , met with radiant if fleeting benediction; the play of “living waters” rippling through Les Jeux d’eaux ; the Marche funèbre , which had hitherto seemed clamorously dull, galvanized by a cataclysmic reading of tragic intensity; the final, fervently inconclusive, Sursum corda hovering to the end with angstvoll poignance between faith and doubt—ripeness is all, resonant with the stark poetry of old age.

Bridge’s aural perspective is from within the piano, with a reverberant immediacy threatening to mask detail in thunderously bass-heavy passages, though it affords an undeniable visceral satisfaction. What other treasures has Lowenthal in reserve? Enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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Works on This Recording

Années de pèlerinage, première année, S 160 "Suisse" by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Weimar, Germany 
Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année, S 161 "Italie" by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837-1849; Weimar, Germany 
Années de pèlerinage no 3, S 163 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867-1877; Rome, Italy 
Années de pèlerinage, première année, S 160 "Suisse": no 9, Les cloches de Genève by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Weimar, Germany 
Venezia e Napoli, S 159 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1840 
Weihnachtsbaum for Piano 4 Hands, S 613: Book 2 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano), Carmel Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Germany 
Weihnachtsbaum for Piano 4 Hands, S 613: Book 3 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Jerome Lowenthal (Piano), Carmel Lowenthal (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Germany 

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