Liszt: Schubert Transcriptions, Vols 2 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Schubert Transcriptions, Vols 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Leslie Howard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66954/6, 66957/9 DDD
Leslie Howard continues to educate us in Liszt’s prodigious creativity and the nine discs that make up the Schubert transcriptions (three discs per volume, the first of which – CDA 66951/3, H423 – was issued earlier this year) remind us how subtle and inventive was Liszt’s rendering of others’ music.

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The transcriptions are almost exclusively of the songs, which Liszt returned to again and again: there are three versions of several, including ‘Erlkönig’ and ‘Frühlingsglaube’. What is fascinating are the means that Liszt adopted to compensate for the absence of voice and text – the transcriptions are rarely literal (indeed, Liszt often transposes keys for the sake of the sequence), and the accompaniment, as it were, is often broadened. A common technique was to give the first verse plainly and treat successive verses almost as a series of variations, so that, for example, ‘Ave Maria’ becomes something of a bravura concert piece.

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The highlights of the set are the two complete transcriptions of Schwanengesang – although Liszt’s vision tends to be grander than Schubert’s, here he is sensitively attuned to the cycle’s introspective melancholy. Listening to all the discs, one feels that rarely can one composer have paid such a compliment to another, a compliment that is repaid in Howard’s scrupulous playing and comprehensive dedication. William Humphreys-Jones