Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor; Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam (arr. Busoni)

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam (arr. Busoni)
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Bridge 9337

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Liszt’s usual practice was to make solo piano transcriptions of his works for other genres. For some reason, however, he did not do this with his three-movement Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam – which is the chorale theme of Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète – composed for organ in 1852. So Ferruccio Busoni did posterity a favour when he made his piano arrangement in 1897. Sure enough this is hugely, even monumentally difficult, and really needs a pianist of Garrick Ohlsson’s magisterial technical resources to bring it off.

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The music has a sense of space and grandeur that’s remarkable even by Liszt’s standards, and Ohlsson delivers it with an objective immensity that’s enhanced by the sound of his chosen Bösendorfer piano (rather matt, but never harsh or ugly). This impressive display of ego-free power and virtuosity raises expectations regarding the Sonata which are then strangely thwarted. Ohlsson plays the work in almost the opposite way, with abrupt and sometimes exaggerated gear-changes of pace and mood, striking in themselves, but not so convincing in terms of getting Liszt’s huge single-movement design to hang together. Then again, Ohlsson’s performance of Busoni’s mighty transcription makes this recording easily worth acquiring for that reason alone. Malcolm Hayes