Beethoven Symphony No. 6
Of all Liszt’s keyboard transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies, none is more vivid and convincing than the Pastoral, with its storm so clearly inhabiting the same world as the tempestuous side of Liszt’s own piano persona. Ashley Wass’s performance uses a Bohemian piano made in the 1820s, which enables him to command a wide range of colours: his handling of the opening movement’s long waves of crescendos, for instance, is admirable. Less fortunately (and not mentioned in his witty booklet note), Wass makes liberal use of the instrument’s ‘bassoon’ stop, which makes the bass strings buzz with the aid of a strip of parchment. The comb-and-paper effect might be suited to Beethoven’s potboiler Battle Symphony, but Wass brings it into play not only in the Pastoral’s storm, but also its opening movement and scherzo. The peasants’ merrymaking in the latter sounds in any case distinctly plodding, while the babbling brook of the slow movement flows at snail’s pace. The recent recording by the Russian pianist Yury Martynov, on a fine Erard piano of Liszt’s day, is far preferable; and his more plausible tempos for those two movements leave him room to throw in Liszt’s transcription of the Second Symphony.