Not-So-Rhapsodic Liszt Rhapsodies

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

Martin Ivanov’s Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies are not very rhapsodic. To be sure, the pianist boasts a great technique and a beautiful sonority, and he’s uncommonly attentive to the composer’s seldom observed contrasts in articulation. Yet most of the introductory sections make little rhetorical impact on account of Ivanov’s literal, matter-of-fact pianism.

Nos. 10 and 14 prove particularly episodic in this regard, while Nos. 2 and 12 lack requisite panache. On the other hand, Ivanov’s mannered speeding up and slowing down in No. 6’s (in)famous right hand octaves pulls focus from the music’s rhythmic momentum and undermine Liszt’s intended cimbalom effects.

But there are moments where Ivanov’s Lisztian affinity truly shines, such as in his hauntingly stretched-out tremolos in No. 11’s first half, and the pianist’s impetuous , forward moving shaping of the Rákóczy March’s low-register build-up into the sprightly main theme. And Ivanov’s terse, forthright delivery liberates the short, brooding No. 3 from its normally dirge-like state.

On the whole, I miss the wide dynamic range and heroic sweep characterizing Vincenzo Maltempo’s reference cycle, which splits the difference between Roberto Szidon’s gaunt, edgy aesthetic and the elegant cultivation of Michele Campanella and Misha Dichter (the latter’s Philips cycle never got the attention it deserved, and warrants reissue). Ivanov sticks to the “traditional” canon of 15 Rhapsodies, leaving out the composer’s late-period Nos. 16 through 19; not that it really matters in light of the competition.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Maltempo (Piano Classics); Campanella (Philips); Cziffra (stereo version, Warner Classics)

  • Martin Ivanov (piano)

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