LISZT Piano Works (Lucille Chung)
Lucille Chung, the Canadian pianist whose previous recordings have included Scriabin, Poulenc and Ligeti, has now turned to Liszt, with nine pieces from the last decade of the composer’s life juxtaposed with two large-scale works of the 1850s.
The fleet Toccata, which could almost be a study for the Csárdások or the late Mephisto Waltzes, serves as an overture to the late group. Chung imbues Unstern! with genuine menace, all the more formidable for its pendulum-like rhythm, and follows it with a tender Wiegendlied, later expanded as the first movement of the last symphonic poem. Bagatelle sans tonalité glitters and shimmers in a performance that foregrounds prickly audacity. Abschied, Nuages gris and a surprisingly brisk En rêve aptly evoke the pathos and existential loneliness Liszt described with such economy in some of the late works. Taken as a whole, these carefully selected pieces would make a compelling group on a recital programme.
Chung’s focus in the ‘Gretchen’ transcription is delineation of Liszt’s rich polyphony, allowing the various instrumental voices to speak with perfect clarity. With some justification, she treats the work as a stand-alone, though some listeners may miss a stronger characterisation of the Faust allusions from the first movement of the symphony.
Given the more than 200 recordings of the B minor Sonata currently available, it’s difficult to make an individual statement in the piece without veering into the realms of self-indulgent eccentricity. Yet Chung manages to do it, and with the sort of go-for-broke playing that one rarely encounters these days. Her sound is particularly impressive, along with a shapely and expressive singing line, as well as plenty of speed and power when called for. Chung’s success with so many facets of Liszt whets the appetite for a set of Transcendental Études.