Notes and Editorial Reviews
Franz Liszt was the most central figure in 19th century music. No-one travelled more widely, no one met and knew more of his fellow musicians, no one had a keener grasp of the repertoire, no one explored the possibilities of a new musical aesthetic and language more readily, and no one composed more prolifically.
The ambitious Naxos project to record all Liszt's solo piano music has now reached Volume 18, and this new volume is an undoubted success. Liszt was, among other things, a great virtuoso of the keyboard, of course, whose transcriptions are always among his most challenging works. The idea of bringing Beethoven's symphonies before a wider public was laudable and was uppermost in his mind in making these versions of the
originals. However, the virtuoso challenge in their performance should not be underestimated; they are not intended for domestic music-making.
Nowhere is the challenge to the pianist more readily appreciated than in the great Eroica Symphony, a work whose lengthy proportions and powerful intensity require a strong structural grasp, a clear intellectual vision, and sheer concentration, not to mention a prodigious piano technique. Konstantin Scherbakov scores on all these counts, and the Naxos recording creates an excellent piano sound in an atmospheric acoustic. Liszt - and Beethoven - are well served.
However, Liszt would have been the first to admit that although his transcriptions did to some extent achieve the laudable merit of bringing Beethoven's music to a wider public at a time when there were few orchestral concerts, they are still no substitute for the real thing. This is of course more noticeable with an epic score like the Eroica, than in the smaller and less challenging Symphony No. 1.
It is inevitably in the slow movements that the issue is at its most problematic, since in slow-moving music the quality of the sound itself is under the closest scrutiny. It is difficult for Scherbakov to maintain the requisite tension in the musical line of the great funeral march of the Eroica, nor is the Andante cantabile of the Symphony No. 1 as pleasing as the other movements.
In many other respects one can only wonder at Liszt's ability to capture the essentials of Beethoven's symphonic vision on a single instrument. The textures teem with activity in a balance which so intelligently delivers the various ideas presented by Beethoven's orchestra. The faster movements come over particularly well, even though the lack of orchestral variety and weight denies the Eroica its natural identity in a way which is not so much of a problem with the earlier work.
Therefore this is an experience which will bring the listener many rewards. To the lover of piano music, there are performances of skill, consummate technique and structural control from an artist of high calibre, and to those who like to explore the repertoire whenever the opportunity arises, Liszt's understanding of his great predecessor is second to none.
-- Terry Barfoot, MusicWeb International
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