Liszt (The) Essential Organ Works

Transcriptions and original works make a thrilling Liszt organ traversal

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Liszt (The) Essential Organ Works

I cannot recall such a comprehensive collection as this, with its tempting additional selection of transcriptions by Saint-Saëns, Reger, Kynaston, Lemare and Peter King himself. The organ is the Klais in Bath Abbey – newly built but within the original “Jackson” casework in 1997 – where King has been the incumbent since 1986. It is realistically captured in magnificent sound by Gary Cole, whose Wolverhampton-based Regent label is steadily building up an impressive choral and organ catalogue.

King has shaped each of the three discs into a satisfying self-contained recital, the whole set topped and tailed by Liszt’s two greatest masterpieces for the instrument, the Prelude and Fugue on B‑A‑C‑H and the Ad nos Fantasia and Fugue. Not all the performances come off equally well. Paradoxically, King’s account of Funérailles (transcribed by Nicolas Kynaston) is superior to Kynaston’s own, and the first of the two St Francis Légendes (a feat Liszt himself thought impossible on the organ until he heard Saint-Saëns perform it) is atmospherically voiced and artfully graded. The second suffers from Reger’s superfluous comments and emerges in a smothered wash of sound – turn to Louis Robilliard playing his own transcription for this (Festivo) with its clearer pulse and registration.

Four excerpts from Années de pèlerinage on disc 2 make for interesting comparison with the piano originals (I’m not convinced that Salvator Rosa sings quite as jauntily on the organ). Excelsior! opens disc 3 (a pity King did not follow it with Am Grabe Richard Wagners, which uses the same theme). And thence, via Arcadelt’s Ave Maria and Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine (Mozart and Allegri), to Ad nos, the work with which, more than any other, Liszt brought the organ into line with contemporary musical thought.

This is a highly impressive account, less bombastic than Kynaston (on the Klais of Ingolstadt Münster) yet more thrillingly sonorous than Xavier Darasse, whose 1970 recording nevertheless outshines just about everyone in the consistent clarity of the part-playing, especially the pedals and in the dizzying vivace molto toccata of the finale.

King’s illuminating accompanying essay is illustrated with music examples. Altogether I doubt if there will be an organ contribution to the Liszt bicentennial which can better this.

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