Moog’s “Stratospheric” Liszt Sonata

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

If you want a modern day Liszt Sonata recording that parallels the fire and brimstone and headlong momentum of bygone legends like Alfred Cortot and Simon Barere, Joseph Moog just may be the ticket. Don’t expect introspection and majesty in the manner of Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter, or Arnaldo Cohen, except for in the final pages. Instead, relish Moog’s novel phrasings, unpredictable yet logical accentuations, breathtakingly fast yet staggeringly controlled passagework, and transcendental octave technique. Moog foams at the mouth, takes you for a wild ride, keeps you guessing, and never lets up on excitement. But he does so by staying within reach of Liszt’s carefully considered tempo adjustments. Without a doubt, Joseph Moog’s Liszt Sonata is nothing less than top-tier.

The remainder of Moog’s Liszt recital convinces less consistently. His ravishingly contoured trills and runs throughout the St. François d’Assise Legend comes off less like a sermon to the birds than as a spiel from a fast-talking Bible salesman. Likewise, the St. François de Paule Legend’s rumbling bass-register cascades and crashing chords don’t evoke walking on the water, but rather a high-tech motorboat.

Moog’s Dante Sonata might be described as a more nuanced and structurally sophisticated update of Lazar Berman’s 1970s DG recording. That said, I miss a sense of yearning in the long repeated-note phrases and the intense harmonic pointing that draw me to the Bertrand Chamayou, Angela Hewitt, and Mykola Suk recordings. Alessio Bax similarly inhabits the music’s physical challenges and literary subtext. After an hour’s worth of pianistic fireworks and colorful drama, Csardas obstinée seems like a brief, extroverted afterthought. In reality, it makes for a thought-provoking encore. Whatever you do, don’t miss Joseph Moog’s Liszt Sonata; he knocks it out of the park and into the stratosphere.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Between Heaven and Hell
Reference Recording: Sonata in B minor: Arrau (Philips); Argerich (DG), Dante Sonata: Bax (Signum); Suk (Cambria or Music & Arts)

  • LISZT, FRANZ:
    Piano Sonata in B minor; Two Legends; Après une lecture du Dante; Csardas obstinée
  • Joseph Moog (piano)

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