Liszt: Transcriptions of Bach & Wagner

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Analekta Fleur de lys
WORKS: Transcriptions of Bach & Wagner
PERFORMER: Alain Lefèvre (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: FL 2 3179
Alain Lefèvre is a significant musician, a French-born but Canadian-raised pianist who is also a composer. His readings of these Bach-Liszt transcriptions, recorded in 1999 at the magnificent Megaron concert hall in Athens after being given there in concert, possess an authority that is palpable from the opening bars of the first track. The pianist lays out the music with a clarity both of intellectual purpose and sound-world that pays great dividends; he grandly reveals the dual-sided personality – resulting from Liszt’s brilliant rethinking of Bach’s organ sonorities for piano – of these works.

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For me, however, problems arise in the Wagner-Liszt works (Tannhäuser Overture and ‘Evening Star’ aria, Isolde’s Liebestod), for all three of which Lefèvre chooses inordinately slow tempi (for instance, his account of the ‘Evening Star’ transcription takes 10:39 minutes, compared with Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s 6:10 in his 1992 Decca reading). Timings don’t, of course, tell the whole story: once again Lefèvre shapes his performances with command and conviction, and it’s clearly a question of personal taste that causes me to find them so ponderous, entirely lacking in sweep and dramatic frisson. In this area of Liszt operatic distillation, give me Moiseiwitsch, Bolet, Cherkassky or (on a perhaps less exalted level) Thibaudet any day. Max Loppert