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Liszt: Années de pèlerinage – Première année (Suisse); Legendes, S175

Francesco Piemontesi (Orfeo; CD + DVD)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Liszt Années de pèlerinage – Première année (Suisse); Legendes, S175
Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
Orfeo C944182 (CD + DVD) 55:40 mins

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Francesco Piemontesi’s pianism can hold its own alongside anyone’s in terms of absolute technical facility. He also has a special affinity with the lyrical directness in Liszt’s idiom – simple, yet somehow also not-so-simple – that features much in the first book, ‘Switzerland’, of Années de pèlerinage. You can’t really play ‘Au lac de Wallenstadt’ more straightforwardly than here; yet the result has a haunting loveliness, as does the limpid water-rippling of ‘Au bord d’une source’, while the opening and closing bars of ‘Cloches de Genève’ conjure the sounds of the city’s church bells in mesmerising style.

If Piemontesi’s way with the music’s poetry is special, he is less impressive with its firepower: in the big passages his keyboard tone tends to flatten out into something too shallow for a Lisztian statement as thunderous as ‘Orage’, however remarkable the delivery of its onslaught of left-hand octaves. And the opening paragraphs of the cycle’s great centrepiece, ‘Vallée d’Obermann’, don’t brood as probingly as they need to. In ‘St Francis of Paola walking on the Waters’, one of the masterworks of Liszt’s later years, Piemontesi then unleashes a superbly sustained account that does true justice to the music’s grandeur – a pity that this quality hadn’t materialised to the same extent earlier. The accompanying DVD by Bruno Monsaingeon is essentially a film of Piemontesi’s studio recording, with each item of Années de pèlerinage introduced by atmospheric Swiss-landscape visuals plus literary quotes (eg by Byron), and with Piemontesi offering likeable and engaging thoughts of his own.

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Malcolm Hayes