WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Pensée des morts; Invocation; Hymne du matin; Hymne de la nuit
PERFORMER: Teresa Walters (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 79772 (distr. www. teresawalters.com)
This disc will appeal to Lisztians through its inclusion of lesser-known pieces. Hymne du matin and Hymne de la nuit were originally intended for the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Invocation and Pensée des morts from that collection also appear on this disc); other rarities on offer include the Alleluia and Ave Maria d’Arcadelt of 1862 and L’hymne du Pape in honour of Pius IX. Teresa Walters invests most of this material with supple phrasing and rises to some of the grander moments with pleasing fervour.
I wish the same could be said for her performance of the Sonata in B minor. On first hearing I was horrified that any pianist could play this spellbinding music so dully. Further listening has allowed me to appreciate the rounded, unforced sound Walters produces, but I remain perplexed by the lack of dramatic characterisation in her conception. The Mephistophelean dimension goes quite undeveloped (note the stodgy fugue), while crucial lyrical moments are played with deadpan expression. In this cautious context, the central Andante sostenuto – usually heard as a slow movement – seems at least as active as the (customarily turbulent) material surrounding it. No work demands effective contrast and a well-stocked expressive palette more than this one, but in avoiding the charge of empty virtuosity, Walters accidentally turns this epic utterance into stress-free easy listening. Sviatoslav Richter’s best recording of this work (Carnegie Hall, 1965) is utterly hypnotic but currently hard to find; Krystian Zimermanpowerfully calculated version is also leagues ahead of Walters. David Breckbill