Vanessa Wagner: Liszt, Pärt
In the booklet interview, Vanessa Wagner says that she long avoided Liszt for, among other things, his extroversion, brilliance and swagger. Eventually, however, experience with the late works allowed her to make peace with him. On the basis of her new disc of selections from the Harmonies poétiques, with three Arvo Pärt pieces interspersed, a fully ratified peace agreement should probably not be drawn up just yet.
From the opening bars of ‘Invocation’, we are confronted by frenetic rhetoric which, undergirded with a rubato verging on hysteria, threatens incoherence. Any hopes that things may cool down a bit in ‘Bénédiction de Dieu’ are quickly dashed. Wagner seems unable to let the music speak for itself but superimposes all manner of overwrought accelerations that leave the impression that God’s benediction in solitude must be a harrowing experience. ‘Pensée des morts’, Liszt’s final word on ideas previously elaborated in the piano piece Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and the so-called De profundis Concerto, both from 1834, fares somewhat better, despite cavalier disregard of the composer’s pedal markings and dynamic indications. Refusal to take ‘Funérailles’ at face value, namely as an expression of the immense dignity surrounding national mourning, akin to Héroïde funèbre or Berlioz’s Symphonie funèbre et triomphale, transforms pathos into strident bathos.
Wagner is clearly more at home in the more intimate sound worlds of Pärt. Her Liszt interpretations, on the other hand, seem filled with the very qualities that she says made his music so difficult to assimilate.