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CD Review

Franz Liszt

Piano Music

  • Légende #2 - "St. François de Paule" S. 175/2
  • Sonata in B minor S. 178
  • Paganini Étude #3 "La Campanella" S. 141/3
  • "Nuages gris" S. 199
  • Romance "oubliee" S. 527
  • "La lugubre gondola" S. 200/2
  • Nocturne "En reve" S. 207
  • Transcription of Waltz from Gounod's "Faust" S. 407
Eugene Albulescu, piano
Manu 1446 DDD 1993 66:37

At a certain CD shop I was quite familiar with, recordings of music by one of the "famous" composers seemed less likely to sell than the others. The composer was Franz Liszt. I suppose it was possible that beyond Les Préludes and the Bugs Bunny adapted Hungarian Rhapsody for piano, the customers in that town had no interest in this composer's music. This I find curious, as some of the other tone poems (will Zubin Mehta's burly Mazeppa with the Vienna Philharmonic ever be reissued by London?), piano concertos, Totendanz, and particularly the Faust Symphony (especially Bernstein on DGG or Horenstein on Vox) deserve shelf space in the average classical CD collection. This brings me to the solo piano music of Liszt, and to Romanian-born pianist Eugene Albulescu.

The young virtuoso Albulescu (b. 1970), who has lived in New Zealand for over a decade, appeals to a new breed of listener for this composer. Albulescu's stated aim in making this recording is to add his "small voice" to that of the great Liszt interpreters of the past (Arrau, Richter, and Bolet come to mind), and to present a recital which recognizes the multi-stylistic nature of the composer's music.

Albulescu has apparently undergone a new awakening with respect to Liszt's music, his B minor Sonata in particular. In this piece, Albulescu is convinced that the composer was depicting nothing short of the Fall of Man in the eyes of God (Satan successfully tempting Adam), and the subsequent redemption of humanity through Jesus the Messiah. Now, I'm sure many of us had detected wisps of infernal meddling in the opening and in other parts of this epic work, not to mention muted spirituality, while understanding less the why's, what's and how's. It is quite a treat, then, to rehear this imposing sonata when molded by a performer who not only wields an artistic but deeply conceived programmatic agenda as well.

There is perhaps some truth to the notion that Liszt is a composer that can survive a bit of understatement with respect to interpretation, and perhaps that is what my ears tell me most is happening with Albulescu's piano. Not that his Liszt Sonata is dull, or common. In fact, Albulescu's reading is affectionate and caring, as well as dramatic and brilliant. As based upon the Biblical references, it was fun to try to see this interpretation through to its logical conclusion, and it certainly is a valid one, since for me it "works".

The other lengthy compositions on the disc are the dissimilar Lugubre Gondola, which takes several moments to open up, the St. François Legend #2, with its depiction of this saint walking across the straits of Messina, and the fun and games paraphrase of Gounod's opera Faust (which might be as seen through the eyes of Méphistophélès!). Counter-balancing these, Albulescu adds four short works: the Scrianbinesque Nuages Gris, the youthful Romance Oubliee, the interesting answer to Traumerei called En Reve, and the more familiar Grand Étude de Paganini, "La Campanella".

Throughout this varied recital, which is recorded in admirable digital sound, Albulescu manages to retell the secret stories embedded within each piano piece with a particular affinity and eveness. True, the authority of playing may not be present in fullest measure, perhaps because the emphasis is more on the lyrical sonorities than the weighty. But I prefer reduced rather than full-fat Liszt anyway, how about you? That this is a demanding program, and that Albulescu succeeds in his goal of dishing out spoonfuls of Lisztian variety, is without question. The pianist proves to be interesting to liszten to (sorry) in other ways as well – he has written the program notes for the CD booklet. This means that we are also able to judge his ability in HTH communication (head to hand) – what he thinks about each piece, and does he make it happen this way in performance. Result? I think Albulescu is a ten fingered, two-fisted, hands-down Lisztian. Perhaps those sleepy CD shoppers would have awakened to this composer had they listened to a certain 'small voice" from New Zealand.

Copyright © 1996, Peter S. Murano