Sonically Sumptuous Liszt

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

Not that anyone buys a recording of Liszt’s flashy Hungarian Fantasy for the orchestra part, but check out this SACD if you want to hear the final section’s percussion parts defined as in no other version, or the first-desk orchestral solos sounding like real first-desk orchestral solos rather than window dressing. In the Totentanz I’ve never heard the passage with solo bassoon and low strings so sharply and acerbically delineated as here. Nor, in the First concerto’s final section, do I recall ever hearing such a sumptuous yet crystal-clear orchestral image that reveals the piano, pizzicato strings, rapid wind flourishes, and trusty solo triangle effortlessly dovetailing each other on a three-dimensional sonic canvas. The Second concerto also receives a vividly detailed and disciplined reading, but it doesn’t quite match the animation, outward panache, and demonic edge with which Richter, Janis, Thibaudet, and Cohen have spoiled me over the years.

And speaking of pianists, it’s time to mention Nareh Arghamanyan, whose earlier PentaTone solo Rachmaninov disc earned a rave review from yours truly. She takes lots of liberties with Liszt’s texts, yet does so with a sense of purpose and a high degree of technical refinement. In the First concerto’s solo sections, Arghamanyan metes out rubato in gradual proportions in the manner of a conductor, yet often shapes decorative passagework in strict tempo, making expressive points through accent and coloration. You also hear the pianist shade the bravura descending double notes in the Second concerto to mesh with her orchestral surroundings; many pianists simply, obliviously, pound them out.

If Arghamanyan’s phrasing of the Hungarian Fantasy’s main theme is too cut and dried at the outset (where are Earl Wild’s added arpeggio fills or George Cziffra’s roller-coaster phrasing when we need them?), I like how she bites into the Friska’s often smoothed-out dissonances. For all four of these works on one disc, Thibaudet/Dutoit still rules for overall flair and consistency, yet this release’s interpretive care and high sonic standards deserve serious consideration, together with Ronald Vermeulen’s excellent booklet notes.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: All works: Thibaudet/Dutoit (Decca), Concertos: Richter/Kondrashin (Philips), Totentanz: Brendel/Haitink (Philips), Hungarian Fantasy: Wild/Sanger (Chesky)

    Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major; Hungarian Fantasy; Totentanz

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