Beethoven Symphonies Nos 2 & 6 (transc. Liszt)
Before the advent of mechanical reproduction, the most convenient way of getting to know great works of the orchestral repertoire, such as the Beethoven symphonies, was to play them at home in one of the many straightforward piano duet arrangements that were readily available. Infinitely more subtle and supple than those, however, were the two-handed transcriptions made by Liszt, which miraculously managed to preserve not only the letter of the originals, but also their spirit. Even the variegated tone-colours of Beethoven’s scores are reflected in Liszt’s versions, and if they sound like unconventional piano music, they are unfailingly conceived in keyboard terms. Mind you, it’s hard to know who they were aimed at: they were much too challenging for amateurs to play, yet plainly unsuited to concert performance.
Listening to these stunning accounts by the Russian pianist Yury Martynov, it’s difficult to believe at times that only two hands are playing. Movements such as the fleeting finale of the Second Symphony, or the storm from the Pastoral, are dazzling virtuoso display-pieces. Elsewhere, however, Martynov never fails to play with admirable warmth and imagination. His 1837 Erard piano is an object of great beauty. Altogether, very impressive.