LISZT Années de pèlerinage - Suisse (Piemontesi)
The Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi, now in his mid-thirties, is quietly carving out an impressive career for himself and this latest release offers ample affirmation of his gifts. The audio recording of Liszt’s First Book of Années de pèlerinage is accompanied by a film by Bruno Monsaingeon which is a typically sensitive affair, interspersing Piemontesi’s playing with footage of Swiss scenery and quotations by writers such as Byron and Schiller, who directly inspired the music within Book 1.
But the CD will be the main draw for many. There’s a quiet sense of command that is evident from the off, Piemontesi allowing the ringing chords of the ‘Chapelle de Guillaume Tell’ time to speak but also imbuing them with a musing quality. The melody that then emerges over tremolos is suitably sonorous, while the following bass octaves are energetic but never merely showy. Louis Lortie’s choice of a Fazioli makes for a brighter, more extrovert sound here and his recording sets him in a bigger acoustic than is given to Piemontesi, playing a Steinway.
Technically Piemontesi is completely at ease with this music and feels no need to play up the virtuoso elements of Liszt’s writing, while accompanying figures never get in the way of the narrative line. His ‘Pastorale’ has a playful clarity to it, compared to which Lortie focuses on creating a more haloed sound. The following ‘Au bord d’une source’ glistens in this new reading, though Stephen Hough is even more subtle in his colouring (as he is in the finale ‘Les cloches de Genève’, which is perhaps a tad too spacious in Piemontesi’s account).
The outbreak of fearsome weather in ‘Orage’ is brilliantly dispatched, with the vertiginous chromatic octaves just before the minute mark superbly daring, really letting rip to tremendous effect. Lortie is more blurred here, as if the cloud cover is altogether lower. ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ is also impressive, combining a dark grandeur with moments of high drama that never verge on the hysterical (which they can do). After this, ‘Le mal du pays’ is suitably inward, with Piemontesi drawing out inner lines with sensitivity.
To fill out the disc we get the second of the Deux Légendes, in which St Francis of Paola walks on waves. Piemontesi imbues the opening writing in tenor and bass registers with a warmly imaginative range of colours and here, as throughout, there’s a tremendously clear sense of narrative, capturing both the grandeur and the myriad hues of Liszt’s remarkable tone poem.
Hopefully Piemontesi is going to record the remaining two books, for this is very fine.