ALBUM TITLE: Alexandre Kantorow: Liszt
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Malédiction
PERFORMER: Alexandre Kantorow (piano); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2100 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Surely no pianist, however gifted, is going to perform at his or her lifetime best at the age of 18. Alexandre Kantorow has more than enough technical command to take on these ultra-demanding works – but no concerto in the established repertory is harder to bring off than Liszt’s First, which presents its soloist with paradoxical demands of interpretation. Kantorow’s approach rejects bombast in favour of an equable, mellow-toned artistry that’s admirable in itself, but doesn’t engage enough with the music’s single-movement interplay of quicksilver impulse and Romantic grandeur. This is extremely tricky to judge, but it all needs to be there (as in Martha Argerich’s phenomenal Deutsche Grammophon recording with the LSO and Claudio Abbado); without it, passages like the scherzo-like Allegretto vivace episode risk sounding earthbound. The work as a whole presents a conundrum that, as yet, Kantorow doesn’t solve.
The Second Concerto’s design relates more obviously to that of a one-movement piano symphony, and Kantorow draws its less extreme range of ideas together much more impressively and convincingly. Some of the bass-heavy piano writing, which would have worked naturally on a concert grand of Liszt’s time, can sound turgid on today’s modern counterpart: Kantorow’s way with this, at once powerful and lucid, convinces strongly, and throughout he is supported by orchestral accompaniments – the Tapiola Sinfonietta conducted by Kantorow’s father Jean-Jacques – of top-flight alertness and precision.
Malédiction for piano and strings, one of the young-ish Liszt’s earlier concerto attempts, is a fairly prolix creation with flashes of genuine imagination. It’s a good choice to include it here, and Kantorow’s classy fingerwork is matched by orchestral string-playing of serious quality. Malcolm Hayes