WORKS: Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Mephisto Waltz No. 2; Mephisto Waltz No. 3; Mephisto Waltz No. 4; Valse oubliée No. 1; Valse oubliée No. 2; Valse oubliée No. 3; Valse oubliée No. 4; Bagatelle sans tonalité; Mephisto Polka
PERFORMER: Setrak (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOCD 910
By the time of his death in 1990, Jorge Bolet was one of the most admired interpreters of Liszt’s piano music. All the more strange, then, that the recordings he made of these popular favourites for RCA in 1972-3 should have been forgotten until recently. Bolet never made another commercial recording of the Rhapsodie espagnole, and here he is characteristically dignified, grand without vulgarity, always in control. His sound is never heavy and he pedals economically. What is missing, though, is a sense of danger. The more reflective pieces, like the third Liebestraum and Un sospiro, seem the most satisfying, though Bolet’s introspective view of Funérailles is valid, too. In Gnomenreigen he seems too reserved, and his gentle approach to La campanella is almost perversely sober. Bolet was never one to play to the gallery, and the engineers caught his playing of Liszt’s preposterously ambitious transcription of the Tannhäuser Overture almost by accident, in a single take. Even though not completely clean, it’s still some feat.
Setrak (no first name given) is, by contrast, heavy-handed and monochrome. While the first Mephisto Waltz and first Valse oubliée are well-known, their successors are almost experimental, open-ended pieces from Liszt’s old age, dully advocated here. Adrian Jack