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CD Review

Franz Liszt

Works for Piano

  • Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi sonata; #7 from Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161
  • Lacrymosa from Mozart's Requiem, S. 550
  • Ballade #2 in B minor, S. 171
  • Widmung after Schumann (Liebeslied), S. 566
  • Transcendental Study, #4 'Mazeppa', S. 139
  • Nuages gris, S. 199
  • Ständchen - Leise flehen meine Lieder (#7a from Schwanengesang, after Schubert), S. 560
  • Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (10), S. 173: Funérailles (#7)
  • Isolde's Liebestod (after Wagner), S. 447
Lise de la Salle, piano
Naïve V5267
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In another current Liszt review, I had the highest praise for Khatia Buniatishvili, remarking that her spectacular technique was "in the service of imaginative and utterly inspired interpretation". On that Sony disc, which included the B minor Sonata, Buniatishvili took many risks and succeeded in presenting a passionate, powerful and fiery view of Liszt. Here, Lise de la Salle (b. 1988) offers a more measured, intellectual approach to the music of Liszt, but without slighting the emotional, lyrical and virtuosic elements. The word "intellectual" and the name "Liszt" in the same sentence might be viewed as oxymoronic to some of the composer's naysayers, but there is considerable depth in much of Liszt's music.

In de la Salle's account of the Dante Sonata, one hears a fiery character in the demonic sections alright, but it comes across with muscle and an epic sense as well. Often too, she conveys a depth missing in most other performances, while generally eschewing over-the-top showmanship. She manages to demonstrate there is more than fire and brimstone here – there is a grimness in the grandeur, and a lasting beauty to the lovely lyrical episodes. Brendel, Jerome Rose, and others have offered fine accounts of this piece, but de la Salle's would be my choice now.

In the Ballade #2, a piece similar in its contrasting moods, de la Salle also brilliantly captures the shifting temperament, from the ominous swirling torrents in the lower register accompanying the dark main theme to the angelic innocence of the Allegretto melody. With fine performances of this piece from Earl Wild, Leslie Howard, and others, there is plenty of competition, but de la Salle's effort ranks at or near the top. Her Mazeppa has plenty of vehemence and muscle, even if it is a bit mechanical in the opening. Again, there have been many fine accounts of this piece, including those of Arrau, Beresovsky, Ovchinikov and Jandó, but de la Salle's can stand with them.

Funerailles begins with bell-like tolling in the lower register, and here it sounds as ominous as in any performance I've ever heard. Again, de la Salle captures the contrasting moods with a deft sense, and while Horowitz, Ogdon and a few others may have offered more flash, de la Salle turns in a solid account, especially effective in the lyrical sections. Her octaves in the big buildup are impressive not only in their speed but in their evenness and well-judged dynamics.

Nuages gris is atmospheric in its otherworldly character and the transcriptive pieces, which I find a bit less interesting (they aren't Liszt and they aren't the originals, though as a hybrid they have an appeal of their own), are all brilliantly played as well. The sound is excellent and the notes are quite informative. All in all, this is a fine offering from de la Salle, a pianist who continues to consistently garner acclaim from critics across the globe.

Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings