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Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Totentanz

Beatrice Berrut; Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Julien Masmondet (Aparté)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Liszt Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Totentanz
Beatrice Berrut (piano); Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Julien Masmondet
Aparté AP 180 55:58 mins


Who’s ‘Athanor’? Actually, it’s a what, and it clearly needs explaining, so the Swiss pianist Beatrice Berrut spends a good while in the booklet doing so; briefly, it’s the furnace used by alchemists in their ‘search for the philosopher’s matter’… implicitly symbolising a ‘quest for perfection and the absolute’.

OK, now we know. Otherwise, this title heralds a straightforward disc of Liszt’s two piano concertos and the Totentanz. To pull off the latter, ever-baffling work without letting it descend into schlock-horror-movie parody is quite an art, and although this can seem an effect-driven performance with plenty of thumping etc, Berrut does succeed in responding to the music with an immediacy that makes some moments feel genuinely hair-raising. The two concertos fare well, too, No. 2 especially strong on rhetorical flair, and virtuoso passagework milked throughout both. Tempos are good and brisk and the triangle has a field day in its solo spot on No. 1. Berrut has a brilliant touch which turns heavy only when it needs to; her playing is crisp, clear, and sometimes vivid enough to seem possessed of an electrical charge. The Czech National Symphony Orchestra under Julien Masmondet provides a solid, workable partnership, though there’s never any doubt that the piano is first among equals in this match – to be fair, there was probably no doubt for Liszt about that either. Sound quality is reasonably good, though it could be a little bit brighter. Once you get past what could seem pretentious and over the top presentation, it’s an enjoyably performed disc.


Jessica Duchen