Liszt/Schumann/Brahms Piano Works

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Liszt/Schumann/Brahms Piano Works

  • Sonata for Piano
  • (19) Hungarian Rhapsodies, No. 6 in D flat
  • Sonata for Piano No. 2
  • (2) Rhapsodies
  • Sonata for Piano
  • Années de pèlerinage année 2: Italie, Sonetto 47 del Petrarca
  • Années de pèlerinage année 2: Italie, Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
  • Années de pèlerinage année 2: Italie, Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
  • (2) Légendes

Artur Pizarro is the young Portuguese virtuoso who garnered first prizes at Leeds, Lisbon and Florida and, predictably, his Liszt debut recital on Collins Classics is of exceptional quality. His sumptuous cantabile and stylistic luxuriance add a rich, authentically Italianate glow to the three Petrarch Sonnets, in these hands a haunting retelling of fourteenth-century passion in essentially nineteenth-century terms. For Pizarro a term such as piu appassionata suggests a turbulence beyond mere surface agitation and in the final pages of Sonetto 123 he magically recalls the ''angelic grace'' of Petrarch's poem. His way with the two Legendes is no less imaginative and pianistically resourceful and, whether evoking the shimmer of bird-song or Saint Francis of Paola's tempest-tossed ordeal, his playing has a truly hallowed ring. In this repertoire Pizarro has few rivals even if no one has ever quite equalled the late Wiihelm Kempffs quiet ecstasy in his early Decca recording of the first Legende (2/54—nla).
But when it comes to the Sonata, Pizarro faces stiff competition. Since writing a recorded history of this work for Gramophone in April 1988 (page 1411) many more versions have appeared and prayers for discs from Annie Fischer (Hungaroton), Zimerman (DG) and Richter (Memories (CD) HR4218) have been memorably answered. So, while Pizarro's performance is powerfully rhetorical and imbued with an almost exhausting emotional commitment (an intensity by no means always associated with competition winners), his reading hardly compares with the finest available. His tone is rich and refined and Liszt's massive, quasi-orchestral chording—so easily lambasted out of pianistic existence—is superbly shaped and textured. Yet even here his expansiveness, his love of the grand manner, of rubato and elasticity in general, endanger the music's underlying clarity. While grateful for such endearing and personal warmth I found myself often longing for greater propulsion, for a less elaborate toying with the heart of the matter. Also, a double rather than single note trill at 8'38'' and a grandiose chromatic undertow beneath Saint Francis of Paola's hymn of thanksgiving are unusual, if authentically improvisatory, Lisztian touches; an ignoring of rest and pause marks at the Sonata's fulminating final climax, less convincing.
No one could accuse Martha Argerich of unstructured reverie or dalliance and her legendary DG performance from 1972, at long last reissued, suggests an entirely different level of both technical and musical achievement. Her prodigious fluency unites with a trail-blazing temperament, and Valhalla itself never ignited to such effect as at the central Andante's central climax. Both here and in the final Prestissimo there are reminders that Argerich has always played octaves like single notes, displaying a technique that few if any could equal. As I said when first commenting on this disc in my history of the Sonata, ''there are times when she becomes virtually engulfed in her own virtuosity'' yet ''this is a performance to make other pianists turn pale and ask, how is it possible to play like this?''
Argerich's Schumann, too, is among her most meteoric, headlong flights. In terms of sheer brilliance she leaves all others standing yet, amazingly, still allows us fleeting glimpses of Eusebius (the poetic dreamer in Schumann, and one of his most dearly cherished fictions). The Brahms and Liszt Rhapsodies, taken from Argerich's very first 1963 DG disc, are among the most incandescent yet refined on record, a dazzling and sad reminder of both her past glory and her present enigmatic silence in the solo and concerto repertoire. The sound, when you bother to notice it, is excellent, though in warmth and detail it hardly rivals Collins Classics' which is of demonstration quality throughout.'

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