Liszt: Six grandes études de Paganini; Franz Schuberts Märsche für das Pianoforte übertragen

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Six grandes études de Paganini; Franz Schuberts Märsche für das Pianoforte übertragen
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
For the 20-year-old Liszt, it was hearing Paganini at the Paris Opéra on 22 April 1832 that made him determined to find a keyboard equivalent for the legendary violinist’s dazzling virtuosity. Six years later he produced a set of transcendental studies largely based on Paganini’s solo Caprices, but also including a famous version of the ‘Campanella’ finale from the B minor Violin Concerto. Liszt revised all six pieces in 1851, rendering them more transparent and somewhat less intractable, but even in this form they remain a severe test of keyboard dexterity. If there’s any pianist who has technique in reserve to play these pieces it’s Marc-André Hamelin, who manages not only to make them sound effortless, but also to invest them with elegance and wit. From this point of view his performances far surpass the rather four-square accounts recorded by Leslie Howard as part of his complete Liszt edition, also for Hyperion. The indefatigable Howard offers both 1838 and 1851 versions, and even throws in further alternatives for three of the studies, but without ever really bringing the music to life.


More of an acquired taste are the solo pieces Liszt fashioned out of various piano-duet marches by Schubert. This, too, is territory visited by Howard, who takes a considerably broader view than Hamelin of the sombre opening funeral march. Howard is more persuasive here than in the Paganini Studies, though once again it is Hamelin who characterises the pieces with greater vividness. Altogether, a brilliantly successful recital. Misha Donat