Notes and Editorial Reviews
In 1855 the organ world in Germany discovered Franz Liszt’s performance of his most famous transcriptions on the organ of Merseburg. Yves Rechsteiner recaptures the magic atmosphere of these concerts.
R E V I E W S:
Gothic, grand, and enthusiastically recommended.
Interesting program, including the seldom-heard first version of the Prelude and Fugue on BACH. Persuasive performances on all hands. Near-optimum sound, balancing detail and solo work immediacy against the spaciousness of Schwerin Cathedral grandly filled at climactic moments by the roar of its 1871 Ladegast organ. Attractive production, with an open-out sleeve centering irrelevantly on Delacroix’s Christ on the Mount of Olives.
Rechsteiner invokes the performance practices of the 19th century when “every musician took greater or lesser liberties with the works he performed, since he was capable of manipulating the very elements of musical language according to the expression he thought appropriate.” But this Anything Goes notion is contradicted by the example of the young Berlioz insisting vociferously on fidelity to the score at performances of the Paris Opéra (see Chapter 15 of the Memoirs), or critics’ complaints in regard to liberties taken with Beethoven by the young Liszt. Among friends, Liszt played it straight. On the other hand, the cluelessly literal score reading which mars so many contemporary performances is at least equally offensive. Tinkering with the score, however, is no panacea. Rechsteiner notes that in the “Ad nos” Fantasy and Fugue “I have developed certain cadenzas, added passagework, and sometimes decorated the melodic line.” Chromatic runs interpolated into tumultuous passages are effective, even felicitous. Arpeggios bridging the great thundering chords, in which Liszt sets out the chorale melody in the opening, blunt the effect. And Rechsteiner’s ornaments prefacing the chorale melody in the great central adagio entangle its serene declarations in an antithetical fussiness. Allowing Rechsteiner latitude “to dare to perform (Liszt’s) music ‘the old way’: with commitment and freedom,” it remains a fact that some innovations gussy its effect, some impede it. In any case, Rechsteiner’s provocations are not merely minor but unnecessary—despite his freedom, his commitment is never in doubt as he turns in one of the strongest accounts of the “Ad nos” Fantasy and Fugue on discs. “Erbarme dich” unfolds with propulsive urgency. However curious in context, the Mendelssohn pieces come off with assured aplomb. The Weinen, Klagen prelude evinces the requisite grimth, while Rechsteiner projects the turbulence of the Prelude and Fugue on BACH with compelling flair. The upshot is Gothic, grand, and enthusiastically recommended.
Adrian Corleonis, FANFARE
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