Liszt Complete Années de Pèlerinage
On this generously filled two-CD set, Louis Lortie gives us Liszt’s complete Années de pèlerinage, repeating Book 2 (Italie), which he first recorded for Chandos 20 years ago (9/91). Today he adds an increasing weight and intensity to his earlier facility, and the results – pianistically impeccable and of a thrilling spontaneity – always suggest a live rather than studio experience. As responsive to Liszt’s rhetorical storms as to his more delicate and picturesque brilliance, he makes light of every difficulty; and, whether recalling the mountain horns that echo across the Swiss mountains in “Chappelle de Guillaume Tell”, gliding us rapidly across the lake of Wallenstadt (where Marie d’Agoult, Liszt’s mistress of the moment, could hear “a melancholy harmony, imitative of the sigh of waves and the cadence of oars”) or showing a formidable force and velocity in “Orage” (once appearing in a programme as “Orange”), he is at one with every potent evocation.
However, it is in the Third Année that Lortie is at his greatest. Liszt was too restless and complex to find a simple solace or resolution in his religious preoccupation and here, for the greater part, his pained and introspective utterance tells you that if it had not been for his musical outlet, devout Catholic that he was, he may well have attempted suicide. Music of a dark-hued austerity, the only positive light in this book is shone in the glittering cascades of “Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este”. Here I would have welcomed less fluidity and a sharper definition but elsewhere Lortie is entirely at one with such often agonised outpouring. Finally he takes us out into the sunlight, and if in the Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli he is hard-pressed to match Marc-André Hamelin, his fellow French-Canadian, whose dexterity is truly phenomenal (Hyperion, 5/11), he weaves his own magic spell in the central Canzone. Overall, Lortie’s is a superlative achievement and he is recorded in a bold and open acoustic.