Liszt: Études en douze exercices, S136; Two Concert Études, S145; Three Concert Études, S144

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ALBUM TITLE: Piano Music, Vol. 20
WORKS: Études en douze exercices, S136; Two Concert Études, S145; Three Concert Études, S144
PERFORMER: William Wolfram (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557014
While Valerie Tryon’s ‘Liszt Odyssey’ covers nearly all the genres encompassing this composer’s legacy, her music-making doesn’t evoke the epic and dramatic dimensions implied by the collection’s title. She’s essentially a lyrical, self-effacing player who channels her considerable virtuosity towards subtle nuances and delicate colours. In other words, you won’t hear Horowitz- or Richter-like blood and thunder in the groaning sonorities of Funérailles. Nor should you expect Tryon’s refined fingerwork in the ‘Tarantella’ from Vénezia e Napoli to go that proverbial extra mile. Instead, marvel at her creamy legato and beautifully modulated phrases achieved with virtually no sustaining pedal (as in the two Concert Studies, the song transcriptions, and Au bord d’une source). Tryon’s brisk and pointed reading of the Gounod Faust Waltz paraphrase holds its own against more scintillating versions by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Decca) and Earl Wild (Vanguard). If Tryon gingerly treads through the cimbalom effects of the 11th Rhapsody, her dynamic range and rhetorical potential considerably open up in the 12th. The recording is fine, if a bit dry and distant. Rarities dominate Vol. 20 in Naxos’s ongoing complete Liszt piano music cycle. The American pianist WilliamWolfram makes a more colourful case for the teenage Liszt’s embryonic version of what would later become the 12 Transcendental Études than Leslie Howard’s relatively sober readings on Hyperion. He also turns in fine performances of the Études de perfectionnement, plus an earlier less flashy incarnation of Mazeppa than its better-known 1851 revision. Wolfram throws off the elfin runs of Gnomenreignen with ease, yet doesn’t match the utter evenness and sweep effected by Claudio Arrau (Philips) and Jorge Bolet (Decca) at similarly slow tempi. Waldesrauschen’s distensions of phrase pull focus from the long melodic lines, and Un sospiro’s rolling figurations don’t ebb and flow, as they ought. Conversely, Wolfram manages to make Il lamento sound less episodic and static than usual, and he proportions La leggeriezza’s quiet ending to perfection. Those attracted to Liszt playing characterised by elegant craftsmanship and minimum controversy certainly will enjoy these releases. Jed Distler