LISZT Ballade No. 2. Rondeau fantastique sur un thème espagnole (“El Contrabandista”). Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12. SCHUBERT-LISZT Ave Maria. Gute Nacht. Des Mädchen’s Klage. Erlkönig. Der Müller und der Bach. VERDI-LISZT Aida: Danza sacra e duetto finale • Valentina Lisitsa (pn) • DECCA 001898702 (76: 00)Read more
Valentina Lisitsa has a reputation as an overwhelming pianist—and for good reason. When I last heard her live, at the Skaneateles Festival back in the summer of 2010, she had to substitute a Chopin miscellany to replace the solo version of Liszt’s Totentanz she had been scheduled to play—it was feared that the piano on hand wouldn’t stand up to the ferocity of her performance. And certainly, no one looking for white-knuckle virtuosity will be disappointed by this album: by the bite of the high-intensity Erlkönig, by the crushing bass sonority in the Ballade, by the dazzling finger work and brilliant rhythmic definition in the rarely heard El Contrabandista.
But this is far from empty technical display. Even in a strenuous work like the Ballade, Lisitsa manages to balance the volcanic eruptions against moments of gossamer beauty; even when faced with the criminal demands of El Contrabandista, she manages to convey an impish lightness of spirit (Leslie Howard seems merely steadfast by comparison); and throughout the recital, but especially in the transcriptions of the Schubert songs, she reminds us of her gorgeous tone, sumptuous legato, and superb responsiveness to subtleties of mood. (Listen, for instance, to the seductive curl she gives the “orientalisms” in the Verdi transcription, or to the subtle coloration with which she brings out the dark anxieties behind Gute Nacht.) Balances are keenly judged, so that even the densest passages don’t clog; and in part because of her attention to harmonic weight, in part because of her expert rubato, the music has a consistent sense of progress—a soaring momentum that never degenerates (as sometimes happened in some of her earlier recordings) into impatience. You might in spots feel that she’s just a bit too imposing (listen to the dynamic range on Des Mädchens Klage), but she’s never unfeeling or bombastic, and the sheer joy of the music-making is almost palpable.
In sum, a superior Liszt recital, conveyed in good—although far from state-of-the-art—sound. Strongly recommended.
A slight disappointmentNovember 14, 2013By F. Talbott Barnidge (Valdosta, GA)See All My Reviews"I have seen her in our theater and was WOWED by her playing. But this recording was so quiet and somber that I thought it should be seen and not heard fully. She excells in robust pieces."Report Abuse
Incredible Liszt Tour de ForceNovember 12, 2013By Alan L. (Doral, FL)See All My Reviews"Valentina is without question amongst the greatest pianists of our age--a superb interpreter of the subtle nuances of Liszt's music. Only few pianists have the temerity to attempt 'El Contrabandista' with the microphone on. Lisitsa's recording is mesmerizing; far from bombastic, from the first note to the last on this album, you are carried along on waves of emotion and when it ends you are saddened that it is over. She leaves you craving for more. Beautifully recorded, you should definitely put on your noise cancelling headphones and prepare to lose yourself for over an hour in Wonderland."Report Abuse
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