Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, Book 2

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Années de pèlerinage, Book 2
PERFORMER: Frederic Chiu (piano)
Liszt’s sources of inspiration in his second volume of Années de pèlerinage ranged from Raphael’s Coronation of the Virgin and a figure from Michelangelo’s Medici tomb, through Petrarch and Dante, to popular styles of music. The Petrarch Sonnets and Dante Sonata are some of his most frequently performed piano works, though the Sonnets originated as songs which are far less well-known. From what I remember of this Chinese-American pianist in recital, he is a fastidious and elegant bravura player rather than a keyboard lion, and this disc is consistently cool and understated. I don’t feel I have witnessed the horrors of hell in the Dante Sonata, though in its detached way, the performance is fine and may even be welcomed by anyone allergic to Liszt’s bombast. Certainly, ‘Il penseroso’ is thoughtful and inward, and perhaps it is just as well that the gushing melody of the first Petrarch Sonnet is played with sobriety. In the second Sonnet, Chiu’s style, perhaps, falls short of an essential sense of grandeur, though I like his cool dreaminess in the third, which is marked placido, and he is certainly doloroso in the Canzone from ‘Venezia e Napoli’. Technically, the most arresting playing comes in the ‘Tarantella’, with its whirring repeated notes. It sounds effortless, and personally, I find Chiu’s refusal to be flashy refreshing. Brendel’s more edgy account of the Années is still available on Philips, Kocsis’s brilliant one on the same label, but Chiu’s recording (using a Yamaha piano) has better sound than either. I’m happy to make it a benchmark. Adrian Jack