Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor; Isolde’s Liebestod; Transcendental studies; Bagatelle sans tonalité; Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Mephisto Waltz No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: CASAVELLE
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Isolde’s Liebestod; Transcendental studies; Bagatelle sans tonalité; Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Mephisto Waltz No. 1
PERFORMER: Nelson Goerner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VEL 3157

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Some 20 years ago, the young Nelson Goerner impressed Martha Argerich, who paved the way for him to leave his native Argentina and study in Europe. Since then, the two have given concerts together, as they will this year at the Edinburgh Festival. So really no words of mine are required concerning Goerner’s technical abilities. Still, I’m happy to confirm that in these Liszt pieces he shows complete control: octaves crackle and boom, chords resound, chromatic decoration sparkles. Just occasionally I would have liked less pedal in the more complex textures.
 
The Transcendental Studies are taken from a public performance in Geneva in 1999. The piano sound here is not ideal, and in ‘Eroica’ the instrument comes under some strain. This is a great pity, as Goerner is quick to seize opportunities to bring out the poetry in these pieces and goes for the big sound only when expressly ordered by the composer. In ‘Paysage’ he spins a long melodic line without exaggerations, allowing just enough time for the modulations to tell; and for all his digital wizardry in ‘Feux follets’, there’s nothing mechanical about it – we are given Liszt’s ‘scherzando’, ‘con grazia’ and ‘espressivo, appassionato’ in full measure. Only his ‘con strepito’ (‘noisily’) finds Goerner unwilling.
 
The Sonata, in a 2007 studio recording on a piano worthier of him, is tremendous stuff (though a high A sharp is suffering by the end). So often this work can fall arbitrarily into its constituent sections. Goerner’s timing of gestures is supreme, so that while Liszt’s surprises are never flattened out, they always seem meaningful in retrospect, and a similar formal control is evident in the too rarely played second Ballade. The Mephisto Waltz is suitably sulphuric. Roger Nichols