Liszt: Fantasia on English Themes; Album-leaves; Grande Valse di bravura

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Fantasia on English Themes; Album-leaves; Grande Valse di bravura
PERFORMER: Leslie Howard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67414-17
Leslie Howard’s complete Liszt piano music project is one of the great achievements of modern recording. This penultimate volume, No. 56, a powerful testament to the care with which Howard has gone about his task, includes a host of oddities alongside significant large-scale arrangements including three symphonic poems. The curiosities range from a sentimental rendition of Schumann’s ecstatic song Widmung, to Howard’s own reconstruction an almost entirely hilarious Fantasia on English Themes, which range from the overture to Handel’s Messiah, through Rule Britannia to God Save the Queen.

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What all this richness demonstrates is the paradoxical nature of Liszt’s genius which encompasses the quirkily captivating, often enshrined in the tiniest of Album-leaves (the shortest lasts a mere 5 seconds), as well as some of the most profoundly imaginative writing of the 19th century. As a guide to this cornucopia, Leslie Howard could hardly be bettered. His virtuosity is never in doubt, though once or twice, notably in the final Grande Valse di bravura, I could have done with slightly showier pacing. Most impressive of all is that he has turned what could easily have been a chaotic miscellany (particularly where the tiny Album leaves are concerned) into a coherent whole. Jan Smaczny