Liszt: Etudes d’exécution transcendate; Two Legends

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WORKS: Etudes d’exécution transcendate; Two Legends
PERFORMER: François-René Duchable (piano)
Liszt was just fifteen when he composed the precocious but comparatively innocuous version of what were to become his ‘Transcendental Studies’. More than ten years later he transformed that youthful material into a large-scale series of virtuoso pieces whose difficulty was such that – as Schumann remarked – probably no one but the composer himself could play them in a meaningful manner. In 1852, Liszt reworked the pieces yet again, toning down some of their technical demands, and lending them greater textural clarity in the process. Even in this final version, they pose a formidable challenge to the pianist. If truth be told, they are of uneven quality, yet the best of them, like the Etudes of Chopin and Debussy, are studies more in composition than in keyboard technique per se.


Alas, François-René Duchable approaches this music with the notion that it needs to be played as fast as humanly possible. For all their technical wizardry, his performances are entirely devoid of any qualities of warmth, dramatic weight, melodic expressiveness or flexibility. To hear the sensuous sonorities conjured up by Sviatoslav Richter in a piece such as ‘Harmonies du soir’, or the capriciousness of Richter’s ‘Feux follets’, is to enter a different world altogether. If you want all twelve studies (Richter plays only eight, and the omission of the final ‘Chasse-neige’, in particular, is a sad blow), then Claudio Arrau is worth considering: he is splendidly dramatic in such pieces as the agitated F minor Etude, though he badly lacks the lightness of touch needed for ‘Feux follets’. Misha Donat