Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini (6), S.140 (original version); Concert Studies, S144 & S145
Elisa Tomellini (piano)
Dynamic CDS7815 57:23 mins
The album sleeve tells us that ‘Elisa Tomellini is the first woman to perform the original version of the Etudes après Paganini’. I’m not sure how the marketing people would verify such a claim, but certainly Ms Tomellini does not need this kind of guff and, I suspect, would anyway prefer to be judged by the quality of her playing than by any tangential uniqueness. One thing the otherwise helpful liner notes don’t tell us is that Liszt dedicated both the 1838 version of these studies recorded here and the simplified one he published in 1851 to Clara Schumann, of whose playing he said that ‘everything concerned with her art is noble and without pettiness’. I’m happy to say the same of the pianist here, and indeed much more.
It is a rare delight these days to hear a pianist who dares to play pianissimo – rather on the lines of Leslie Howard’s recent observation in these pages that what was lacking in much piano playing today was charm. There is charm here in abundance, together with staggering virtuosity. If occasionally the spirit overtakes the latter (in the second Paganini study we at times lose the 4/4 metre), perhaps Liszt should take the blame with instructions such as carratteristicamente and fantasticamente. Finally, not the least of Tomellini’s abilities is her grasp of form. The near 10 minutes of ‘Il lamento’ can seem self-indulgent, but here everything unfolds naturally and meaningfully. And the piano sound is superb.