LISZT Life, Love & Afterlife
Liszt’s peripatetic life seems to invite travelogue programming. Dejan Lazic´’s new Onyx CD touches on several places that inspired important musical responses, including Hungary, Italy, Vienna and Germany.
Lazic´ maintains a languorous pulse in the 18th Rhapsody’s lassan, allowing tonal ambiguity to establish an ominous atmosphere. Glittering passages introduce the friss with what could almost be heat lightning playing around the horizon of a dark and louring sky. Both Csárdás are crisp and appropriately driven, with the Csárdás obstinée in particular calling to mind the contemporaneous Hungarian Historical Portraits.
A sparsely pedalled ‘Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este’ from the Third Année creates a curiously secco effect, more pointillist than Impressionist. The explicitly spiritual dimension of the score, Liszt’s evocation of ‘the well of water springing up into everlasting life’ from St John, is left to the imagination.
In the Rigoletto Paraphrase we hear the first hints of Lazic´’s tendency toward an unbridled, capricious tempo rubato. Rather than fulfilling its presumed purpose of enhancing musical spontaneity, Lazic´ pushes this arbitrary leggiero rubato beyond the bounds of eccentricity and into the realm of rhythmic distortion. The music’s rhetorical underpinning starts to topple. It is puzzling because Lazic´ obviously takes great care to reproduce appropriate scansion of the verses of Goethe in ‘Erlkönig’ or of Freiligrath in the third Liebestraum. However, the rough-shod treatment given ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’, perhaps the best-known quartet in all Italian opera, leaves one wondering if Lazic´ has ever heard Rigoletto.
Whether due to whim or habit, this arbitrary rubato isn’t limited to transcriptions of music originally sung but spills into evocations of the dance as well. The dancers suggested in the sixth Soirée de Vienne, replete with coy changes of register, seem to have recognised their quixotic excesses and, by the last waltz iteration, are on their knees in a nearby church whispering a hymn for forgiveness. In Venezia e Napoli, following a rhythmically coherent and persuasive ‘Gondoliera’ and a sternly atmospheric ‘Canzone’, Lazic´ launches into the ‘Tarantella’ at a speed so furious that breathing pauses seem like accidental gashes in an overall textural blur. A sense of abandon, if that was intended, becomes so much insensate note-spinning. The only antidote for this exhausting traversal is instant immersion in the shimmering beauties of the Venezia e Napoli performances by Bertrand Chamayou or Louis Lortie.
The frustration in all this is that Lazic´ is such an immensely gifted player, with a subtlety of touch and vast resources of colouristic nuance that must be the envy of his colleagues. Their fullest realisation, however, precludes exploration of those antiquated paths of willful mannerism that, ultimately, can only lead to vulgarity.