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CD Review

Franz Liszt

Dynamic 7801.02

Transcendental Études

  • Études d'exécution transcendente, S. 139
  • Preludio in C Major
  • Molto vivace in A minor
  • Paysage in F Major
  • Mazeppa in D minor
  • Feux-follets in B Flat Major
  • Vision in G minor
  • Eroica in E Flat Major
  • Wilde Jagd in C minor
  • Ricordanza in A Flat Major
  • Allegro agitato molto in F minor
  • Harmonies du soir in D Flat Major
  • Chasse-neige in D Flat Major
  • Piano Concerto #1 in E Flat Major, S. 124
  • Piano Concerto #2 in A Major, S. 125
Alessandro Ambrosoli, piano
St. Petersburg Northern Sinfonietta of the Music Hall Theater/Fabio Mastrangelo
Dynamic CDS7801.02 2CDs 62:31 + 37:39
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Italian pianist Alessandro Ambrosoli (b. 1969 in Turin) has won some important though not world class competitions and made at least one recording, an effort, however, that few likely noticed as it apparently had very limited availability. For all intents and purposes then, this double CD set on Dynamic is the pianist's introduction to the international music scene. In taking this step, he goes out on a limb in choosing such utterly challenging repertory. That said, on the whole he turns in fine performances all around.

Where has he been all these years? He certainly possesses a formidable technique and exhibits an all-encompassing grasp of Liszt's kaleidoscopic expressive manner. Ambrosoli divulges no eccentricities in his style, always seems to find a workable tempo, plays with a creamy legato when appropriate, and interprets the music with both intelligence and feeling. I have a number of sets of the Transcendental Études and relatively few rise to the level of the performances here. Ambrosoli is worlds better than Russell Sherman and Louis Kentner in their ageing sets and may well surpass one of my previous favorites, Claudio Arrau. But the problem is, there is so much competition in this work – competition from the daunting likes of Vladimir Ovchinikov, Jozsef Balog (Hungaroton HCD32736), Boris Berezovsky (Apex/Teldec 2564-67716-5 ), Lazar Berman, and probably Vadym Kholodenko (I heard his impressive live performance in the Cliburn Competition, but not his recording).

Yet, in the face of this kind of challenge, Ambrosoli acquits himself quite well. The unnamed #2 is full of menacing freneticism and color, while Paysage builds subtly to a beautiful and passionate climax, and then recedes with such grace and gentleness. Mazeppa is thrilling and colorful without ever sounding choppy as with so many lesser performances. Feux Follets is both electric and playful in its delightful patter and Vision has rarely sounded so ominous and gloriously threatening. Ambrosoli gets more out of Ricordanza than I knew was there: his faster tempo and sensitive phrasing make a better case for this piece than any other I can think of. Harmonies du Soir is another great success and Chasse neige builds nervously yet gently to a grand climax, those swirls along the way sounding so stormy, yet so sad.

In the concertos Ambrosoli plays with the same kind of superior musicianship but is hampered somewhat by the chamber orchestra whose dry acoustical environs seem to highlight their scrawny sound and lack of panache. The ensemble was founded only in 2015! They're not bad, but simply fail to impress. The concertos also have heavy competition and this set from Dynamic might have been more competitive if it had offered a filler like Totentanz. Brendel, Casadesus, Janis and others have offered excellent accounts of the concertos that would be preferable. Still, because the Transcendentals are so good, I can recommend the overall package. The sound reproduction is quite fine on both discs. Oddly, the album notes contain more information on the conductor, Fabio Mastrangelo, than on the pianist. If you're interested in fine Liszt pianism, then this disc might be of interest to you.

Copyright © 2018, Robert Cummings