LISZT Symphonic Scenes
It could be argued that performances of the first and best known of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes by itself are missing half the story, and possibly the more interesting half. Liszt intended the Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust as a diptych, and was none too pleased when his commercially minded publisher uncoupled them.
Kit Armstrong’s interesting new recording handsomely demonstrates the startlingly rich context given to the Mephisto Waltz when heard after the multi-dimensional Procession by Night. The Procession here is atmospheric and, in the section built on the ‘Pange lingua’chant, affecting in its yearning. Imaginative articulation, pedalling and dynamics conspire to produce that rarity, a Mephisto Waltz that is genuinely original while remaining true to the score. The Second and Third Mephisto Waltzes are well paced and full of ideas, though without quite achieving the abandon of the First.
Armstrong makes a strong case for the last of the Trois Odes de funèbre, ‘Le triomphe funèbre du Tasse’. Salve Polonia, an excerpt from the unfinished oratorio St Stanislaus, on the other hand, loses its way.
Video footage of Armstrong suggests he favours an unusually high position seated at the instrument. This robs his sound of considerable depth, limits its variety and, in some instances, produces a brittle tone. However, this is but a detail in playing that is overall thoughtfully conceived, imaginative and deeply musical. The disc’s unusual programming suggests no exact comparisons, but listeners with a taste for Liszt in devilish mode may want to investigate Marco Rapetti’s magisterial reading of all four Mephisto Waltzes.