Tuesday 15 November 2011

Liszt New Discoveries Vol 3

New Discoveries Vol 3

Leslie Howard (piano)

Hyperion CDA67810

All mammoth recording projects must resemble a mountain at their outset. Looking back on Leslie Howard's gigantic survey of Liszt's piano music, the great peaks were scaled and unknown plateaus and valleys revealed; and now, more than a decade on from the ostensible end of the project (for no international search for the continuing paper trail of a composer so intent on churning out manuscript can ever really be over) Howard presents another set mopping up loose Lisztian ends under the banner of 'New Discoveries'.

This is Howard's third volume of subsequently uncovered odds and ends, though the finds grow more academic and the newness of the material a little more dubious as time goes on. The bulk of the track listing is taken up with tiny fragments of music, some familiar and some not, classed as album leaves or, as Howard has it, 'keepsakes'. Very few could be considered independent musical works and many are little isolated passages which could be drafts. One of those that seems almost complete is track 27, an album leaf named Purgatorio (Andante in b minor), an intriguing series of descending figures with a melancholic tone. Howard doesn't specify in his sleeve notes which piece they may be connected to, and if this one is from a larger work it's not one I know.

One work appears in a number of guises. Howard suggests that Liszt must have had a special fondness for Lyubila Ya by Michael Wielhorsky (1788-1856) because of the couple of arrangements that Liszt made of the melody. We have three stages of the process here, though they're spread across the two discs, making comparisons a little difficult. What they do suggest is that Liszt was at his strongest when reigning in his instinct to hurl ornamentation into his familiar variation format. It's a point underscored by a simplified version of the Valse-Impromtu, which is all the more affecting for its pared back delicacy and transparency.

Of the more substantial pieces, the Romancero Espagnol includes a typical Lisztian mix of virtuosic variations and some moments of ear catchingly inventive tonality. Two pieces from the oratorio Christus come from Liszt's own transcription of the work for the published vocal score, and Howard clearly believes that they have pianistic value in their own right. One other curiosity is the Variations Tiszántuli szép léany, a work published under Liszt's name and mentioned in contemporary catalogues of his music but some way below the quality of even Liszt's most pedestrian works. Howard isn't convinced it's bona fide, but includes it for completnesses sake.

Completeness is the essence of this volume. To Lisztians, it's self recommending and anyone who has closely followed this Hyperion series will want this set. But this is specialist territory only and casual Liszt listeners are unlikely to have their picture of the composer broadened by it. Needless to say, Howard's playing is sensitive and enjoyable throughout.

This review originally appeared with a full tracklisting at Musicweb International.

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