Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor; Ballade No. 1 in D flat; Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Berceuse

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Ballade No. 1 in D flat; Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Berceuse
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67085
Here are two Liszt recitals as different as chalk and cheese, yet each marvellous in its own way. Andsnes, opening with the Dante Sonata, presents a very modern vision of Liszt, with the most clear touch and control imaginable, especially exquisite in the most rapid pianissimos. His shaping and pacing of structures is excellently controlled as well. Too many pianists approach Liszt like a bull in a china shop, but Andsnes has the wisdom and sensibility to hold back and reserve the heights of excitement for the real climaxes. And these are full of electricity – listen to the high points of the Dante Sonata and the final frenzy of the first Mephisto Waltz. He is, however, possibly best of all in the quietest moments, such as the strange, mystical conclusion of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth.

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Hough, in a programme that seems to focus on Liszt’s works in the same genre as those of Chopin, prefers to shun any obviously virtuosic approach in favour of imaginative colour, atmosphere and spacious, Romantic tenderness. His B minor Sonata may not have the high-octane content of Andsnes’s Dante, but more than makes up for that in evocative depth of feeling. The direct point of comparison between the two is the Second Ballade, included by both: a grand-scale creation, full of non-specific, epically narrative possibilities. It is Andsnes who presents the sharply focused, more instantly breathtaking account; but it is Hough who at the outset transforms the rumbling, chromatic bass line into an almost terrifyingly atmospheric setting for a melody that resounds sombrely like a voice from beyond the grave. Jessica Duchen