LISZT 15 Songs (Timothy Fallon)
The American tenor Timothy Fallon first came to the attention of UK audiences when he won the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition in 2013. Liszt’s first Petrarch Sonnet, ‘Pace non trovo’, formed part of his programme, and it is with a performance of the complete cycle that he opens his excellent debut album of the composer’s songs. His voice is exceptional, darkish in tone, evenly produced, capable of both ringing high notes and a superbly controlled mezza voce. It enables him to encompass both a big statement of desire at the centre of ‘Benedetto sia ’l giorno’ and the rapt sense of mystic contemplation which is the cycle’s eventual goal. His way with words is thoughtful, considerate: the catalogue of emotions – ‘temo, e spero, ed ardo’, etc – that opens ‘Pace non trovo’ is carefully if tellingly negotiated; later on, the Hugo settings ‘Comment disaient-ils’ and ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’ gleam with understated wit and sensuality.
Wonderful though it is, however, the combination of strength, refinement and care just occasionally feels too contained. ‘Oh! quand je dors’, its final phrase astonishingly floated, is exquisite, though the song itself ultimately calls out for the grander passions of Brigitte Fassbaender with Irwin Gage (DG, 4/87). Roughly half of Fallon’s programme duplicates Matthew Polenzani’s for Hyperion’s Liszt series (1/11); and while Fallon’s emotional subtlety gives his Petrarch Sonnets marginally the greater edge, many, I suspect, will prefer the impetuous adrenalin rush of Polenzani’s Drei Lieder aus Wilhelm Tell, where Fallon, though effortless, is interpretatively more reined in. Similar comparisons extend to their respective pianists, with Ammiel Bushakevitz’s nuanced control effectively complementing Julius Drake’s more overt virtuosity and weight. Both discs are superb, however, and any choice between them is a matter of individual taste. No serious Lisztian will want to be without either.