Notes and Editorial Reviews
The first four discs of EMI's 10-CD Liszt anniversary collection feature Aldo Ciccolini in the complete Années de pèlerinage (his superb stereo remakes), Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, the three Liebesträume, six Consolations, the two Ballades and, best of all, the gorgeously nuanced St. Francis Légendes. Discs five and six continue with Georges Cziffra's volatile stereo versions of the Hungarian Rhapsodies (he plays the first 15, followed by his own transcriptions of numbers 16 and 19), tepid readings of the Polonaises and Valse-Impromptu, and a truly hell-for-leather Grand Galop Chromatique.
The 12 Transcendental Etudes pose no problems for Vladimir Ovchinikov's virile, big-boned
technique, while Mikhail Rudy turns in solid, regulation-model traversals of the two Concert Studies and Four Valses oubliées. From André Watts' EMI Liszt holdings come the six Paganini Etudes and three late pieces. A pity that Watts' excellent B minor Piano Sonata was passed over in favor of John Ogdon's alternately inspired and disengaged recording. However, the characterful force of Ogdon's Fifteenth Rhapsody and Valse oubliée No. 1 justifies their inclusion alongside the aforementioned Cziffra and Rudy versions.
I can't pretend to love Jeanne-Marie Darré's dry and notey La leggiereza and Un sospiro, while Leif Ove Andsnes' Mephisto Waltz No. 1 and Stephen Hough's Rhapsodie espagnole boast impressive poise and finish, yet remain slightly reserved and studio-bound. Strange that this so-called "piano collection" concludes with organ music, yet given Lionel Rogg's forward sweep and virtuosic panache in the "Ad nos" and B-A-C-H fugues, I shouldn't complain.
Edward Morton Jack's booklet notes provide an excellent and informative time-line tracing Liszt's life and creative output. While superior individual recordings can be had of most of the works here, EMI's Liszt Piano Collection still offers good value and overall enjoyment for not much money.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
As the stereo era dawned, Aldo Ciccolini was one of the heavy hitters in bringing Liszt to discs, both in the sense of giving magnificent voice to large portions of his most surefire work—(e.g., all three years of the Années in 1962) at a time when the Liszt discography seemed to have run aground on the same couple dozen pieces—but also in his chiaroscuro pianism, going for the gusto without lingering for nuance or subtlety in favor of a grandly Italianate singing line cresting viscerally compelling élan... Here is Liszt at his most immediately appealing... it was Ciccolini, among others, who demonstrated what Liszt was about, spurring my youthful enthusiasm. A generation on his legacy still gives pleasure.
-- Adrian Corleonis, FANFARE
reviewing Années de pèlerinage, also available as EMI 62640
These recordings date from 1957-9 and were made at a time when Cziffra's star shone with a unique, unsurpassed brilliance. Here is all his death defying bravura: the dizzying changes of pace and direction, the hair-raising crescendos within the bar (almost as if a grenade had been tossed into the piano), the steam-drill left-hand accentuation, and the sky-rocketing flights that leave a trail of sparks in their wake. Rarely has one idiosyncrasy been more perfectly matched with another. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and Cziffra were surely made for each other. Above all, these are so much more, despite their often outrageous extravagance, than the readings of a 'gipsy' pianist... Cziffra is, quite simply, unique in this repertoire.
-- Gramophone [11/1994]
reviewing the Hungarian Rhapsodies, also available as EMI 31789
Performing with unashamed virtuosity, sentiment, bravado, spiritual introversion and flashiness, Stephen Hough plays Liszt as if he had thought of every note himself. Technical effects are displayed with affection, grace and apparent ease and the Mephisto Waltz is truly demoniac; yet the peace, clarity and thoughtfulness of St François and the Bénédiction prove that there is far more to Liszt, and Hough, than showmanship.
Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine
reviewing the Stephen Hough performances, also available as Virgin 61129
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