Liszt Symphonic Poems, Vol 1

Commanding performances that illuminate Liszt’s ‘bigger picture’

Author: 
Bryce Morrison
Liszt Symphonic Poems, Vol 1Liszt Symphonic Poems, Vol 1

LISZT Symphonic Poems, Vol 1

  • Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne
  • Tasso
  • (Les) Préludes
  • Orpheus

Volume 1 of Liszt’s complete symphonic poems augurs well for the future. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic remind you at every turn that the days of a lofty critical dismissal of this uneven but pioneering and romantically audacious music are surely over. Coldly objective complaints about Liszt’s lack of craftsmanship or melodic distinction have been echoed in other more stylishly phrased complaints: for Clara Schumann there was ‘too much of the tinsel and the drum’ while Edward Sackville-West could see little beyond ‘the expensive glare and theatricality’. But Liszt was nothing if not ambitious and if there are elements of truth in such accusations, they fail to convey the wider picture. Better an attempt to scale the heights than a safe repose on the lower slopes.

Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne is, indeed, epic in design and intention, seizing on Victor Hugo’s obsession with the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil, of light and dark. But if Hugo’s poem leaves us with an uneasy resolution, Liszt, a devout Catholic, ends with a radiant state of holiness. Tasso, too, celebrates final acclaim after the artist’s trials and tribulations, and Les préludes (‘what is life but a series of preludes to that unknown song of which death sounds the first and solemn note’) attempts to unite four disparate ideas. Orpheus also conveys the victory of civilising art over baser forces.

Such music makes huge demands and these are met by Noseda with unfaltering command and lucidity. What could so easily topple into bombast is presented with an enviable clarity and acuteness. Chandos’s sound and presentation are excellent.

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