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Liszt: Années de Pèlerinage etc (Charles Owen)

Charles Owen (piano) (Avie)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Années de pèlerinage, 1ère année ‘Suisse’; Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Charles Owen (piano)
Avie AV2476   67:49 mins


Charles Owen’s latest recording centres on Liszt’s first book of Années de pèlerinage. These Swiss vignettes were composed in the virtuoso pianist’s early 20s and then revised in his 40s. Owen also includes the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, named after a poem by the philosopher Alphonse de Lamartine. Liszt’s voracious imagination absorbed literature and landscape, paintings and people. The resultant music, if occasionally sprawling, is always pianistically and intellectually demanding, the score littered with obscure directions like mancando, dolente, slentando etc.

The readings of the opening pieces are disciplined and faithful to the score. Owen seems untroubled by the weirdness of the harmonies in ‘Chapelle de Guillaume Tell’ in his steady rendition. ‘Au lac de Wallenstadt’ stays serene. The polished ‘Pastorale’ and ‘Eglogue’ eschew rusticism – no clogs or cows in this Alpine landscape. Some pieces slightly outstay their welcome. In ‘Orage’ – surely made for live performance – Owen wrestles doughtily with the relentless octaves, but it needs light and shade.

Outstanding is ‘Vallée d’Obermann’, a warhorse usually flogged brutally through conservatoires everywhere. Owen’s thoroughly sympathetic treatment redeems Liszt from his own excesses and demonstrates effortless control. In ‘Au bord d’une source’, Owen delicately conveys the bubbling, ever-changing stream. The closing ‘Cloches de Genève’ is timelessly beautiful.

The lengthy closing Bénédiction unfolds organically in this sensitive performance. Owen relishes Liszt’s glowing harmonies; looser use of pedal creates a gorgeous haziness which compensates for his bright-voiced Steinway. The passagework doesn’t always sparkle flawlessly, but I was still enraptured.


Natasha Loges