Liszt Années de pèlerinage
Liszt's three volumes of Annees de pelerinage are rarely recorded complete, largely because many pianists remain baffled by the dark-hued prophecy and romanticism of the third and final book. So it is particularly gratifying to welcome Lazar Berman's superb 1977 DG recordings back into the catalogue, particularly when so finely remastered on CD. Berman is hardly celebrated as the most subtle or refined of pianists, but at his greatest he combines grandeur and sensibility to a rare degree and his response to Book Three, in particular, is of the highest musical quality and poetic insight. Try the opening of ''Angelus'', where Liszt depicts the uncertain peal of bells with an impressionistic delicacy worthy of Debussy, and you will surely marvel at how far he journeyed from the earlier flamboyance of, say ''La Campanella''—a wholly different chime. Berman's resource here is scarcely less remarkable and his performance of the entire book is hauntingly inward and sympathetic to both the radiance of ''Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este'' and to Liszt's truly dark night of the soul (lamentoso, doloroso and so on), to his desolating lack of spiritual solace elsewhere. Berman's performance of ''Jeux'' is indeed a far cry from other more superficially brilliant accounts by Pletnev or Andre Watts (EMI, 12/86—nla) and in his hands ''Sursum Corda'' only achieves its final uplift after pages or a truly harrowing intensity.
Berman is hardly less persuasive in the first two books. ''Chapelle de Guillaume Tell'' is a true celebration of Switzerland's republican hero with alpine horns ringing through the mountains, while in ''Au lac de Wallenstadt'' Berman's gently undulating traversal is truly pianissimo and dolcissimo egualamente. His ''Orage'' is predictably breathtaking, though even he cannot match the pulverizing force in this piece of Joseph Villa (Second Hearing—nla), and in the gloomy Byronic ''Vallee d'Obermann'' the severest critic will find himself discarding his Beckmesser's pencil, mesmerized by Berman's free-wheeling eloquence. On the debit side, ''Eglogue'' is more breathless than serene and ''Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa'' is occasionally heavy-handed. Berman's three Petrarch Sonnets too, are less consistently ardent than those from Artur Pizarro or Kathryn Stott on their more recent recordings, but elsewhere he is as warm-hearted as he is masterful, concluding Venezia e Napoli (Book Two's supplement and garland of encores) with the most characterful and virtuosic of all recorded Tarantellas.'