Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is pretty much a case of rounding up the troops. A look at the head note will show some classic performances, others rather wizened in years but still long on class, and still others that are lesser known. Astute discographers will note that the process of rounding up also constitutes a sub-group of Brilliant’s own catalogue. We’ve had the Klára Würtz performances in a ‘Romantic Piano Music’ disc for example  and its extraction here is worthwhile; she’s a much under-appreciated player and these recordings, made in 2003, reflect well on all concerned. Further digging shows that the Pizarro Hungarian Rhapsodies can be found on 92790 and the Brendel Liszt performances can be found in Brilliant’s huge box set devoted to
the pianist . And so on.
Earl Wild’s disc derives from a 1968 Vanguard session called ‘The Demonic Liszt’ though you wouldn’t know it from the notes here – though to be fair all the recording dates are noted throughout the ten discs. It’s predictably brilliant, full of panache and brio - a fabulously voiced Réminiscences de 'Robert le Diable' de Meyerbeer: Valse infernale prominently. The Mephisto Waltz No.1 is every Wildeans ticket to ride and includes his own sulphurous emendations. No reservations at all.
The second disc is shared between Lazar Berman and Richter. You’ll find the Richter performance of the Sonata on 92229, intense, powerful, sepulchral, with passing digital imperfections but vertiginous dynamic contrasts. Berman made a series of fantastic Liszt recordings and these 1972 inscriptions are exceptionally fine as are the ones in the later disc devoted to him. He is virtuosic but astutely musical and offers a powerful contrast to the next named musician. Because when Cziffra comes on the scene fireworks are seldom far behind. But these are his Hungaratons and not the EMI discs from the late 1950s. He essays a barnstorming series of transcriptions and paraphrases. His Grand galop chromatique is blisteringly madcap, his Tannhäuser of greater clarity but not necessarily greater warmth or impact than Moiseiwitsch’s, and there’s a stunning if rather forceful Les Jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este.
Vladimir Ovchinikov recorded his set of the Études d'éxécution transcendante for EMI in the late 1980s. He has technique to burn and these are, in the main, highly persuasive performances. His Preludio is excellent, the A minor Etude dynamic and intense and here and in Paysage his expansive romantic cantabile delights the ear. Mazeppa is impressive from any perspective and there’s commanding authority in Eroica. Occasionally he can be too plain – Ricordanza – but as a whole this is a valuable retrieval. Pizarro’s two discs of Hungarian Rhapsodies present occasionally father fuzzy recording quality but good performances. He is splendid in No.5 finding its hooded soul with unerring eloquence aided by a full and expressive range of tonal colours. As with Ovchinikov there are times – in Nos. 6 and 10 for example– when he lacks the kind of Cziffra-like brio necessary.
Talking of whom Klára Würtz’s Gnomenreigen is almost as fast as Cziffra’s and her Mephisto Waltz No.1 is possibly more searching as a performance than his, though less daemonic. Her brief contribution to the box is powerful. Brendel’s entire Vox, Vanguard and Turnabout recordings form the thirty-five CDs of the ‘Brendel Edition’on Brilliant. They include the four CDs’ worth of Liszt recordings he set down. Here we have two but they are quite enough to convince anyone of Brendel’s authority in this repertoire. Hard edged though the recordings can be there’s no gainsaying the controlled eloquence, virtuosity and phrasal assurance of Tremolo from the Paganini etudes nor the immaculate Petrarch sonnets. If his Sonata recording had been here as well that would have been a clincher.
So ten CDs, variously sourced, form the contents of the box. The recordings range across the years and the labels. These things are invariably difficult to adjudicate and recommendation will invariably be personal. For what it’s worth I found the box a well-chosen selection.
-- Jonathan Woolf,
Works on This Recording
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