Compelling Liszt from André Watts

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Although André Watts recorded all of these selections commercially for EMI in the 1980s, the 1986 Schwetzingen Festival SWR broadcast recordings issued here for the first time are anything but redundant. For starters, the close-up, slightly dry yet full bodied engineering captures Watts’ sonority with more impact and realism compared to their relatively resonant, glassy-toned EMI counterparts. Secondly, the Schwetzingen Festival performances reach higher levels of inspiration, spontaneity, and communicative immediacy, all to the music’s benefit.

The two selections from the Années de Pèlerinage retain EMI’s suave surface but with more nuanced articulation in softer passages. In the Third and Fourth Paganini Etudes, Watts enlivens his rather sedate basic tempos with impetuous accents and dynamic surges. Indeed, his accelerations in the E-flat “Octave” Etude’s middle section are quite fiery in contrast to the more hemmed-in EMI version. There’s more continuity and tonal shading in the two Années de Pèlerinage selections and in the Thirteenth Rhapsody, while Valse Oubliée No 1, if not quite so winged and characterful as Horowitz or Richter, sports a few smile-inducing, curvaceous rubatos.

Writing about Watts’ EMI Liszt Sonata, I cited the performance’s big-boned virtuosity and genuine dramatic involvement, along with its metric freedom (the notorious octaves in the opening section, and the hushed ascending scales prior to the fugue) handled with musicality and taste. If anything, this stylistically similar SWR reading plays up the music’s emotional contrasts more fervently, with more abandon in the recapitulation’s climatic octaves and welcome lightness to the Fughetta. A splendid find from the Schwetzingen Festival archives, and a must for André Watts admirers.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: André Watts--Piano Recital, 1986
Reference Recording: Sonata in B minor: Arrau (Philips); Années de Pélerinage: Argerich (DG) ; Paganini Etudes: Hamelin (Hyperion)

    Années de Pélerinage: Book I - Au lac de Wallenstadt, Book II - Il Penseroso; Piano Sonata in B minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor; Valse oubliée No. 1; Six Paganini Etudes

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