LABELS: Celestial Harmonies
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms * Liszt
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1; Liszt: Three Funeral Odes
PERFORMER: Sándor Falvai (pianist); Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra/ Zoltán Kocsis
CATALOGUE NO: 07869
Zoltán Kocsis’s death last November, aged only 64, hit the classical music community hard. Therefore this recording, posthumously released, acquires extra poignancy as Kocsis and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra (HNPO), of which he had been music director since 1997, traverse the grand rhetoric of their fellow countryman Franz Liszt’s three Funeral Odes. This music is, admittedly, not always Liszt’s finest, but with restrained pace, sinuous strings and the evocation of taut, Danube-black atmospheres, the HNPO and Kocsis make the best possible case for its mingling of the ceremonious and the tragic.
Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 can be nearly as dark. The youthful composer conceived the first version shortly after his mentor Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt. The soloist Sándor Falvai, a former president of Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy, offers playing of great distinction, characterised by fine and shining sound, strongly delineated structure and a sense of contained power that bursts forth when required. Tempos are perhaps slightly ponderous, but maintain the performance’s intense seriousness of approach while allowing melodic lines time to sing.
Some may consider the weighty interpretations, plain presentation and copious, erudite programme notes old fashioned. In fact the focus is entirely on the point and the heart of the music.