Notes and Editorial Reviews
No one fascinated by Liszt, or by Romanticism at fever pitch, will tolerate being without this. Howard’s Steinway sounds like it’s in your living room, whispering, crooning, or thundering up close and clear. Liszt lives! Long live Liszt!
LISZT Préludes et Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S 171d. Concerto sans orchestre, S 524a. Album-Leaves: Magyar in b flat, S 164e; in D, S 164h; Preludio, S. 164j; in A flat, S 166l; S 167h. Ungarischer Marsch in B flat, S 229a. Pensées “Nocturne,” S 168b. O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst, S 540a (draft) ? Leslie Howard (pn) ? HYPERION CDA 67455 (79:34)
Liszt is alive and well and disguised as an archivist in the library of a small German
principality. Like Joe Hill and Elvis, he never died. Or so it seems, given the startling amount of new material that has surfaced since Leslie Howard came to the putative end of his traversal of Liszt’s “complete” piano works in 1999. A first installment of new discoveries, issued in 2002 (Hyperion CDA 67346, Fanfare 26:5), proved to be footnotes to Liszt’s vast, complex, cross-referenced catalog—of interest to the musicologist, the connoisseur, the collector determined to have it all, but offering little or nothing to prompt an avid second hearing by anyone but the most obsessed Lisztian. But the items in this collection, “New Discoveries—2,” are a different matter. A preliminary solo piano version of what would become the Second Piano Concerto possesses considerable interest. And several of the album leaves are finished compositions, e.g., the A?, S 166l, which plays a fragrantly charming minute. The Pensées “Nocturne,” an even richer find, plays for two. But the most alluring material is drawn from a sketch book from the mid-1840s held by the Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv in Weimar containing the eight pieces, in various states of completion, gathered under the provisional title Préludes et Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, and revealing that in the similarly titled collection of 1852 (see Fanfare 27:6) the religieuses had crowded out the poétiques, if you’ll allow. One is hardly surprised by a first version of a theme from Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, but a bit startled by harbingers of the last of the Consolations and the First Ballade. These are, apparently, initial conceptions, with accompaniments ranging from the spotty and perfunctory to virtuosic elaboration. Most intriguing are the ideas to which the composer did not return—the efflorescent overflow of Liszt’s youth—which suggest the unrevamped spontaneity of his improvisation, which enchants even as we regret unrealized possibilities.
In the tradition of the great Gunnar Johansen, who performed and issued the first Liszt intégral on 50 LP albums for his own Artist Direct label between 1961 and 1976 (see Fanfare 6:4), Howard is not shy about making performing editions of works left incomplete. The editing ranges from rounding things off with a simple cadence to realizing Liszt’s evident intentions with a flourish. For instance, Howard’s engaging and richly informed notes tell us, “The eighth piece (of the Préludes et Harmonies poétiques et religieuses) is really only a sketch: an eight-bar Andante ending with ‘etc.’, and a rough nine-bar sketch for a middle section. The present writer has attempted a fully developed completion in homage to Liszt.” Nice job, too. Surely, this is preferable to a melodramatic breaking off in the interest of a supposed “authenticity.” And Howard’s participation is readily acknowledged: “All tracks prepared by Leslie Howard from Liszt’s original manuscripts, and completed where necessary from analogous material . . ..” Then there is Howard’s “conjectural reconstruction” of a draft of the piano transcription of O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!—the Liebestraum: Liszt’s best known tune—from manuscript and published sources, to give one some notion of the prolixity Liszt was prepared to pare to make a surefire number. And that’s to say that no one fascinated by Liszt, or by Romanticism at fever pitch, will tolerate being without this. Howard’s Steinway sounds like it’s in your living room—whispering, crooning, or thundering—up close and clear. Liszt lives! Long live Liszt!
--Adrian Corleonis, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Preludio, S 167h by Franz Liszt
Leslie Howard (Piano)
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