Notes and Editorial Reviews
Before the advent of mechanical reproduction, the most convenient way of getting to know great works of the orchestral repertoire, such as the Beethoven symphonies, was to play them at home in one of the many straightforward piano duet arrangements that were readily available. Infinitely more subtle and supple than those, however, were the two-handed transcriptions made by Liszt, which miraculously managed to preserve not only the letter of the originals, but also their spirit. Even the variegated tone-colours of Beethoven’s scores are reflected in Liszt’s versions, and if they sound like unconventional piano music, they are unfailingly conceived in keyboard terms. Mind you, it’s hard to know who they were aimed at: they were much too
challenging for amateurs to play, yet plainly unsuited to concert performance.
Listening to these stunning accounts by the Russian pianist Yury Martynov, it’s difficult to believe at times that only two hands are playing. Movements such as the fleeting finale of the Second Symphony, or the storm from the Pastoral, are dazzling virtuoso display-pieces. Elsewhere, however, Martynov never fails to play with admirable warmth and imagination. His 1837 Erard piano is an object of great beauty. Altogether, very impressive.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine
Liszt's transcriptions - which in fact hover somewhere between true reproduction and arrangement - have been recorded several times before, whether single Symphonies or whole cycles. Most infamously perhaps by Glenn Gould, so idiosyncratic a pianist that his renderings sound like Beethoven-arranged-Liszt-arranged-Gould. In recent years, two cycles - budget in price but certainly not in terms of artistic quality - have appeared on Naxos, by the scandalously underrated Turkish pianist Idil Biret - available either on standard-issue CDs or part of their Idil Biret Archive (8.506027 is the complete boxed set) - and by the fine Russian virtuoso Konstantin Scherbakov, likewise available separately or in a boxed set (8.505219). Some collectors will be lucky enough to own Leslie Howard's priceless 98-CD recording of Liszt's complete piano music on Hyperion, which includes all his Beethoven transcriptions, amounting to 8 discs.
Martynov's own performance here is little short of sensational, particularly in the Sixth where he tackles the phenomenal difficulty of the 'Storm' movement with a stunning virtuosity that would have had Liszt the performer nodding in approval, and the sublime serenity of the 'Scene beside the Stream' with a spiritual expressiveness that would have moved Liszt the abbé. Martynov is happy to slow Liszt's pace in places to enhance textures, as Biret frequently does, but he can also call upon Scherbakov's emotional intensity to communicate the profundity of Beethoven's originals. With no sign of fatigue after such a mammoth effort, Martynov is totally convincing too in the Second Symphony, which in Liszt's unerring transcription sounds as if it could have been an original piano sonata. It helps that he plays an 1837 Erard piano, which has a bright, clear yet subtle tone ideally suited to Liszt's pellucid pianism.
Robert Schumann's original reservations aside, critical opinion of these transcriptions has nearly always been very favourable. Liszt naturally held Beethoven in the highest esteem - unlike the critic in this bizarre review of Cyprien Katsaris' complete recording of the transcriptions - and was very careful not to be seen trying to 'improve' upon his hero's genius, eschewing gratuity and bravura and going so far as to suggest fingerings to ensure clarity of parts. He does omit bits of detail here and there where he knows the piano cannot do justice to the layers of the orchestral original, yet most of the time his solutions to the substantial timbral difficulties arising from the transference of orchestra - especially Beethoven's - to piano range from the inspired to the miraculous.
Sound quality is very good. The French-English booklet notes are voluminous, detailed, informative, sober and well translated - full marks to Zig-Zag. Curiously, the translator's name is given, but not the original author's, apart from Liszt's in his appealingly humble foreword to the 1865 edition of his transcriptions. With regard to which, in sum, both Liszt and Martynov "help to propagate knowledge of the masters and the appreciation of the beautiful" with flying colours.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International Read less
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