Liszt: Harmonies du soir

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Harmonies du soir; Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Sonetto 104 del Petrarca; Six Consolations etc
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 2728

This is immensely distinguished Liszt-playing in a programme that displays the composer’s expressive range through a series of short and medium-length pieces. Nelson Freire seems utterly at one with the music, not only in terms of its innate poetry but also its astonishing diversity of texture and touch.
The short Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3 allows him to demonstrate this dramatically with the contrast between thunderous percussive bass writing and high-register cimbalom imitations of wonderful delicacy, but one could as easily instance the brilliantly liquid fingerwork of Au lac de Wallenstadt or the way Freire makes the chords melt into impressionistic chiaroscuro in Harmonies du soir: in these latter pieces, part of the key to Freire’s success is the subtlety and sensitivity of his pedalling. Freire produces a really beautiful piano tone, too, conjuring an astonishing range of colours.
But the special quality of Freire’s playing is really that he seems to put you directly in contact with Liszt himself, without the performer’s technique or personality standing in the way, which is very rare. The centrepiece of the programme, Ballade No. 2, receives an epic reading that rises to powerful rhetorical heights; on the other hand, the Consolations – and how nice it is to hear all six played as a group – are delivered in the most intimate and natural way possible: wistful, tactful and serene.
A delightfully flighty-melancholic Valse oubliée and a passionate, profoundly lyrical Sonetto 104 del Petrarca complete the programme. Altogether an immaculate disc, enhanced by an excellently balanced recording. Calum MacDonald