Liszt: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses d’après des poèmes de Alphonse de Lamartine

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WORKS: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses d’après des poèmes de Alphonse de Lamartine; Piano Sonata in B minor
PERFORMER: François-Frédéric Guy (piano)

Even in Liszt’s bicentenary year, complete recordings of the formidably vast Harmonies poétiques et religieuses are likely to remain rare. Hardly surprising, given the cycle’s dominant mood of crowd-displeasing high seriousness. It contains three of Liszt’s mightiest individual masterpieces, and François-Frédéric Guy responds magnificently to each – to the radiant spaces of Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, the epic drama and scale of Pensée des morts, and above all to the thunderous tragedy of Funérailles, whose extreme demands show that Guy’s technique can match anybody’s for firepower. He also offers moments of genuine revelation. I hadn’t realised quite how thrilling an introduction to the cycle the opening Invocation can be; and while the Andante lagrimoso can sometimes seem a less than remarkable statement by Lisztian standards, Guy’s searching way makes it more memorable.
That probing quality is appropriate to much of the music, but it tends to come at a price: the Ave Maria, for example, is one instance here where the benign element in Liszt’s style doesn’t sing with the naturalness that it invites. But Guy has evidently thought deeply about his approach: his way with the Sonata is quite different – free-flowing and mercurial, beautifully capturing its flights and switchbacks of mood, and full of a kind of bounding joy that balances out the more brooding world of the earlier cycle. Firmly recommended, although the more smoothly flowing recordings of Harmonies poétiques by Steven Osborne and Philip Thomson are not displaced. Malcolm Hayes