Yury Martynov performs Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Before he embarked on the seemingly impossible task of transcribing the Choral Symphony for a single pianist, Liszt made a version using the greater weight of two pianos. That was in the early 1850s, but more than ten years later he decided to round out his already existing solo arrangements of Symphonies Nos 5-7 with the remaining works of the cycle.
Listening to No. 9 on the piano is a curious experience, but if the variety of tone-colour of the orchestral (and vocal) original is inevitably diminished, the music’s harmonic boldness and astringency are thrown all the more vividly into relief. Of course, there are moments that can hardly be made to work effectively on the keyboard at all, even in Liszt’s hands: the finale’s recitatives, or the sustained tones of ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen’, with the male chorus doubled by trombones and double-basses. Here, as occasionally elsewhere, Liszt provides additional staves in smaller type-face, so that the pianist can at least see what he can’t play. But the long orchestral passage preceding this moment is thrilling as transcribed by Liszt, and the double fugue that follows it is equally astounding – especially in the hands of a virtuoso like Yury Martynov. His performance is altogether a tour de force, and only his handling of the second theme in the slow movement is puzzling: it ought to be more flowing than the first, but it actually sounds slower. But that’s a small point: anyone who’s been following Martynov’s Beethoven symphonies cycle will want to hear this.