Beethoven: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6 (transcr. Liszt)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6 (transcr. Liszt)
PERFORMER: Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557170
To the music analyst Donald Francis Tovey, Liszt’s Beethoven symphony transcriptions proved conclusively that he was ‘by far the most wonderful interpreter of orchestral scores on the pianoforte that the world is ever likely to see’. Liszt’s great achievement was to transmit not only the wealth of detail in Beethoven’s writing, but also the breadth of its sonorities. The transcriptions demand a transcendental technique, and it’s often hard to believe only two hands are involved.


Konstantin Scherbakov’s only current rival in these pieces is Leslie Howard, in his complete Liszt edition for Hyperion. On the whole, Scherbakov emerges as the more incisive and cleaner of the two. His finale of the Fourth Symphony may be marginally slower than Howard’s, but the greater clarity of his playing makes the music sound more dazzling; while in the slow movement of the Pastoral he manages to make the brook flow more gracefully than the rather lugubrious Howard. On the other hand, for all its occasional smudged detail, Howard’s storm is more demonic than Scherbakov’s. (What wouldn’t one give to have heard Liszt himself?) In the slow introduction to No. 4, Howard adopts Liszt’s alternative suggestion of using tremolos to sustain the long-held notes of Beethoven’s original, though it is Scherbakov’s plainer version that conveys greater mystery. As a means of sampling this rather specialised repertoire without running to the expense of Howard’s five-disc set (and let’s face it, how often do you really want to hear the Choral Symphony on the piano?) this new recording is warmly recommended. Misha Donat