Notes and Editorial Reviews
LISZT Opera Paraphrases: Rigoletto (3 versions). Aida. Il trovatore. Der fliegende Holländer. Simon Boccanegra. Lohengrin. BUSONI Sonatine
No. 6 (Chamber Fantasy on Carmen ) • Jerome Lowenthal (pn) • LP CLASSICS 1003 (70:03)
First issued on LP by RCA in 1981 and, until now, never released on CD, pianist Jerome Lowenthal’s collection of Liszt opera paraphrases has enjoyed cult status among pianophiles and connoisseurs for quite some time. To celebrate the maestro’s 80th birthday in style, LP Classics made the appropriate arrangements with RCA and, more than 30 years after it first hit the shelves, Lowenthal’s 1981 album is now once again available for general consumption. To round out the original RCA recital, LP
Classics added three bonus items: Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen, also known as Sonatina No. 6, and two skits à la Victor Borge, both titled “Little Narration of My Own,” in which Lowenthal purports to explain the meaning of the Preludio of the Rigoletto paraphrase by loosely narrating Verdi’s libretto and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf story, respectively. (In the Peter and the Wolf number, after finishing his spoken introduction, Lowenthal goes on to play the entire paraphrase.)
Although I had heard others rave about Lowenthal’s 1981 album in the past, this CD was my first chance to actually hear it. And although I was frankly skeptical that the recording could live up to its advance billing, I am happy to report that it did. Playing operatic transcriptions, particularly when the transcriber happens to be Liszt, is very tricky business. On top of an ironclad technique, the pianist needs to have mastered the mysterious—and nowadays nearly forgotten—art of cantabile . Lowenthal, who has spent much of his career teaching fire-breathing virtuosos at Juilliard, certainly is not lacking in the technique department. But, at the end of the day, it is his cantabile that steals the show here. Put simply, this is regal piano playing of the finest order, which radiates with seasoned confidence, gusto, and the kind of mastery that goes well beyond complete command of the instrument. While there have been other remarkable performers of the works featured here—Egon Petri, Claudio Arrau, Jorge Bolet, and Aldo Ciccolini come to mind for the Liszt works; Petri, John Ogdon, and, above all, the inimitable Paul Jacobs come to mind for the Busoni sonatina—Lowenthal’s accounts fully deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
The quality of the recorded sound is variable. The Liszt paraphrases are for the most part serviceable, but there is occasional distortion. The Busoni sonatina has fine sound, but, at least to my ears, Lowenthal’s instrument, a vintage Steinway model A III, lacks the tonal bloom and the booming bass of a concert instrument. While the hilarious Rigoletto paraphrase narratives have semiprofessional sound, I very much doubt that anyone will notice.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a great artist’s 80th birthday than to share his timeless artistry with the world. Enthusiastically recommended.
FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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