Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8
Yury Martynov (pn)
ZIG-ZAG 336 (2 CDs: 81:47)
I am surprised that the earlier releases in this series (symphonies Nos. 2 and 6 on ZZT301, and symphonies Nos. 1 and 7 on ZZT 317) have not been reviewed in
, because these have the feel of major releases, and have been covered more than perfunctorily in other publications. Perhaps Liszt’s transcriptions of the nine Beethoven symphonies are no
longer an oddity on disc, and we can thank Cyprien Katsaris for that, and many pianists since him. (Yes, I know that Katsaris was not the first pianist to record these works, but he was in the right place at the right time, in terms of making them part of today’s repertory. Let me get it out of the way, however, and say that his recordings may have been matched, in different ways, but they have not been outclassed.)
Martynov was a student at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and then continued his studies in France, adding harpsichord and basso continuo to his earlier studies on the piano and organ. He is interested in period instruments; on this recording he plays a restored Blüthner piano from circa 1867, and in a collection of Mozart’s works for two pianos (with Alexei Lubimov, also on Zig-Zag Territoires), he plays a fortepiano.
If these transcriptions are a contest between Beethoven and Liszt, under Martynov’s fingers, Liszt is the winner. It isn’t that he emphasizes the music’s technical demands (although one hardly ceases to be aware of them in these muscular yet always lithe readings) but that his playing seems to stress the idea that a forward-looking Classical composer is being filtered through the sensibilities of a similarly forward-looking Romantic. Thus, these readings are anything but conservative. Even more than in the two earlier volumes, Martynov is continually experimenting with an unusual phrasing here, an unexpected pause there, and an interesting reevaluation of dynamics and tempo everywhere. At first, I was a little disappointed, because Martynov seemed to have become a bit self-conscious since his two previous Beethoven-Liszt releases. As I heard and reheard this pair of discs, however, I recaptured my admiration for him, and now I feel that he plays these transcriptions as well as anyone, and with considerable imagination. What is the point, after all, of collecting multiple performances of the same work if all of the performers are going to perform that work in more or less the same way? Martynov doesn’t sound like anyone else, and his lovely, bright-sounding Blüthner, nicely recorded by Zig-Zag in a church in Haarlem, in the Netherlands, contributes to making this a unique listening experience. The scherzo of the “Eroica,” for example, is as buoyant and exhilarating as anyone could want. One is left thinking not about what a piano cannot do, compared to Beethoven’s orchestra, but about what an orchestra cannot do, compared to Liszt’s piano. That’s as it should be. Look out for this release, and for the two that will follow it. Very highly recommended.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
For the latest installment in this period-instrument cycle-in-progress featuring the Beethoven symphonies in Franz Liszt’s solo-piano transcriptions, Yury Martynov uses a rare, recently restored concert model 1867 Blüthner. In addition to its distinct registral characteristics, I also assume that its keyboard action is light and responsive, judging from Martynov’s effortless dispatch of the Eighth symphony finale’s all-but-impossible repeated notes.
As a transcriber Liszt knew how to transform non-pianistic orchestral effects into idiomatic and logical keyboard writing, and had a sixth sense for what to include and what to leave out. That doesn’t make his Beethoven arrangements any less challenging to execute, yet Martynov’s technique knows no difficulties. Sometimes Martynov’s distortions of phrase, tempo modification, and accents are extreme to the point of mannerism: the “Eroica” Allegro con brio’s swooning second subject; No. 8’s lurching speed-ups and slow-downs in the first movement; the mincing accentuations in the Menuetto.
Yet the playing never lacks continuity or kinetic momentum. In fact, the “Eroica” inner movements prove relatively disciplined from a metric standpoint, as the Scherzo’s firmly sprung soft detached chords and cross-rhythmic syncopations bear out. And although the lyrical character of No. 8’s three-note motive (similar to the one that opens the Rondo of Schubert’s G major D. 894 sonata) and clipped woodwind chords is softened through Martynov’s rhapsodizing, the music’s sardonic undertones still are apparent. The bottom line is that Martynov’s formidable keyboard command and strong musical personality draw you in and compel you to listen. I await this cycle’s remaining volumes with curiosity and anticipation.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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