Liszt poured a wealth of ingenuity and an astonishing degree of diversity into works for piano. EMI Classics' exclusive 10-CD set of Liszt's greatest piano works features keyboard virtuosi from generations past and present including Leif Ove Andsnes, Aldo Ciccolini, Georges Cziffra and Lionel Rogg.
Most of this disc is taken up with Liszt's Christmas Tree, an unusually modest suite based on Christmas carols. It also offers charming pieces by Reger, Tchaikovsky, Rebikov, and Lyapunov based on Christmas themes, and a couple of Bach transcriptions. Eteri Andjaparidze, whose first CD was a sensational Prokofiev collection, plays this music truly superb musicianship and the kind of pianistic color that has become a rarity. Her Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is the most beautiful I've heard since Dinu Lipatti's. And wait until you hear her delightful playing of Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride! It's deliciously witty and charming.
For while it would be idle to pretend that this 70-year-old virtuoso, struck down at the height of his career with psoriatic arthritis, still commands the velocity and reflex of his earlier years, his later Chopin and Liszt are a tribute to a devotion and commitment gloriously enriched by experience. The First Impromptu is piquantly voiced and phrased while the C sharp minor Etude, Op. 25 No. 7, could hardly be more hauntingly confided, more ‘blue’ or inturned. How you miss the repeat in the C sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50 No. 3 (not Op. 15, as the jewel-case claims), given such cloudy introspection and if there are moments when you recall how Rubinstein – forever Chopin’s most aristocratic spokesman – can convey a world of feeling in a scarcely perceptible gesture, Janis’s brooding intensity represents a wholly personal, only occasionally overbearing, alternative; an entirely different point of view. Time and again he tells us that there are higher goods than surface polish or slickness and in the valedictory F minor Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 4 he conveys a dark night of the soul indeed, an emotion almost too desolating for public utterance… Janis is no less remarkable in Liszt, whether in the brief but intriguing Sans mesure (a first performance and recording), in a Sonetto 104 del Petrarca as tear-laden as any on record and in a final Liebestod of an exhausting ardour and focus.
No prizes for predicting that this Liszt B minor Sonata is technically flawless and beautifully structured. What may come as more of a shock (though not to those who have followed Pollini's career closely) is its sheer passion. To say that he plays as if his life depended on it is an understatement, and those who regularly accuse him of coolness should sit down in a quiet room with this recording, a decent hi-fi system and a large plateful of their own words. The opening creates a sense of coiled expectancy, without recourse to a mannered delivery such as Brendel's on Philips, and Pollini's superior fingerwork is soon evident. His virtuosity gains an extra dimension from his ability at the same time to convey resistance to it—the double octaves are demonstrably a fraction slower than usual and yet somehow feel faster, or at least more urgent. There is tensed steel in the very fabric of the playing. By the two-minute mark so much passion has been unleashed one is bound to wonder if it has not all happened too soon. But that is to underestimate Pollini's unerring grasp of the dramatic structure and its psychological progression from paragraph to paragraph; it is also to underestimate his capacity to find extra technical resources when it would seem beyond the power of flesh and blood to do so.
Internationally renowned soloist Lucille Chung performs a programme of virtuosic and beguiling works by Franz Liszt. One of the first female students of the iconic Russian pianist Lazar Berman at the Accademia Pianistica in Imola, Italy, Chung has won numerous awards for her performances of Liszt’s music, including the B minor Sonata that features on this programme – although Lucille describes in her introduction to the programme how Berman “… for a time doubted that a diminutive lady with hands spanning a 9th (although I can now stretch a 10th on a good day) would ever succeed in playing Liszt well … Mr Berman came around.”