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CD Review

Franz Liszt

Piano Music, Volume 7: Rossini Transcriptions

  • Soirées musicales
  • William Tell Overture
Kemal Gekic, piano
Naxos 8.553961 DDD 69:15
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Piano Music, Volume 10

  • Scherzo and March, S. 177
  • Liebesträume: Notturno #1, 2 & 3, S. 541
  • Berceuse, 1st & 2nd Versions, S. 174a & 174b
  • Albumblatt #1 in E Major, S. 164
  • Élégie sur motifs du Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse, S. 168
  • Romance, S. 169
  • Feuilles d'Album in A Flat Major, S. 165
Jenő Jandó, piano
Naxos 8.553595 DDD 57:39
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I have reviewed the first four volumes of this massive on-going project elsewhere, but let me quickly summarize them: Arnaldo Cohen in the first issue demonstrated both insight and technical panache in a mixture of Liszt works including The Lugubrious Gondola I & II, Unstern, Totentanz (for solo piano), smaller pieces and some transcriptions; in the second, Jenő Jandó delivered a convincing, if mostly straightforward, reading of the 1851 version of the Transcendental Études; and in the next two, Philip Thompson played exquisitely (with rich tone and a fine sense of color) in music mostly of a religious bent, including the Harmonies Poetiques, Consolations, three Ave Marias and much else.

Here we have the first release by Kemal Gekic, an astonishing artist who wields a powerful technique as he knocks off these difficult transcriptions with seeming ease, his fingers doing anything his fertile mind commands. Listen to the William Tell transcription as he gives life to all the inner and primary voices in proper measure, imparting a sense of thrill, of mystery, of a chameleonic piano sounding like a full orchestra. When "The Lone Ranger" theme comes in near the end, one is astonished that he can make such familiar-sounding music come across so thrillingly, so convincingly.

And listen to his deft touch in La promessa from Soirées musicales where pianos and fortes and all gradations in between seem to cascade from his fingers with an unerring sense for ripe coloration. His use of rubato in the following piece, La regatta veneziana, is a model of artistic intelligence, where never a hint of overindulgence or misjudgment surfaces. In fact, you're unaware of any device or contrivance, everything sounding a natural part of the colorful musical fabric. The gem of this CD may well be Li marinari, wherein the greater expressive range demanded by Liszt is fully realized by Gekic, who incarnates the notes with sensitive phrasing and his usual cultivated dynamics, making you forget the work's vocal origins. Excellent sound and notes. All in all, this disc is a must for Lisztians.

I hope I have saved a good measure of praise for the always dependable Jenő Jandó, who in his third entry in this series (Volume 8, which I haven't heard, featured the B minor Sonata and other works) turns in splendid performances of some of the best of the least known works in Liszt's vast output. The Scherzo and March, a diabolical piece much in the tradition of the Mephisto Waltzes, is nearly thirteen minutes of unremitting menace, impish drollery, pianistic nightmares, and visceral excitement. Jandó is in full command here, never shortchanging any facet, never failing to meet the technical challenges. The Berceuses, two unaccountably neglected pieces, are interesting not least because the second isn't so much a more mature (and presumably better) version of the first as a complex and expanded cousin, who, many might say, overstays his welcome. These two pieces bear a relationship to each other much like the two versions of the Prokofieff Fourth Symphony. But, as with the Prokofieff pair, I favor the later, more musically provocative work.

The three Liebestraumé pieces, the third of which may well be Liszt's most popular composition, are perhaps the least interesting offerings here, at least to me. For one thing, in the third Jandó sounds somewhat disengaged, or is it that he is trying to downplay the work's saccharine appeal? The remaining repertory is well rendered by him, however: the Élégie and Romance especially make fine impressions, the former, from 1842, managing in its mostly brightly lit world to foreshadow such dark late works as The Lugubrious Gondola I & II. Fine sound and very good notes. Another winner.

The rival Hyperion/Liszt series, which has reached Volume 50 on the tenacity and talent of one nearly superhuman pianist, Leslie Howard (President of the British Liszt Society, by the way), is, disc for disc, about twice as expensive as the Naxos offerings. More importantly, it appears from the samplings I know that Howard, brilliant and insightful though he is, is outclassed by Naxos' formidable roster of pianists in a project that demands more than one pair of hands.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings