Liszt at the Opera
This superbly engineered recording of some of Liszt’s most popular and demanding opera paraphrases is a curate’s egg. In fact, the best parts reinforce the frustrations. Louis Lortie’s technique is not in question: the skill and dedication required to master these pieces to this level is enormous. But this music requires more than dedicated technique.
When Liszt is in glitter mode – especially in those pieces that combine panache and delicacy, such as the paraphrases on Gounod’s Faust, Verdi’s Rigoletto, and Wagner’s Spinning Chorus – Lortie’s sparkling and swarthy playing is impressively glamorous. The problems come when a greater breadth and nobility is required. The most striking example is the Tannhäuser Overture (it was surely a mistake to open with this performance), where Lortie’s playing is incongruously skittish. Listen to Jorge Bolet or Benno Moiseiwitsch and you’ll hear a different level of musical stature and engagement.
In Réminiscences de Don Juan, too, Lortie allows his technical facility to run away with things, so transitional passages lose their shape and purpose. But then, Wagner’s Liebestod is conveyed with an intensity missing elsewhere.