Liszt: Sonata

LABELS: Danacord
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Tasso,Lamento e Trionfo; Gretchen
PERFORMER: Oleg Marshev (piano)


Liszt’s Italian book of Années de pèlerinage requires a special blend of fervent poetry, youthful passion, and virtuoso drama, yet the young Czech pianist Libor Novacek often downplays these elements.

This is an unusually reflective reading, and despite Novacek’s poise and alluring sound he misses the real essence of wide-eyed discovery that is so central to Liszt’s conception.

Novacek emphasizes lyricism over drama, contemplation over action. ‘Sposalizio’ is extremely spacious, ‘Il penseroso’ is calm rather than intense, and his ‘Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa’ makes for an ambling sort of march.

Things only really get going with ‘Petrarch Sonnet 104’, where Novacek’s playing is at last more concentrated and powerful, rather than merely lyrically expressive.

There is more voltage too in his impressive accounts of the ‘Dante Sonata’ and the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, and he’s been very well recorded by Tony Faulkner. Oleg’s Marshev’s account of Liszt’s B minor Sonata – after an inauspicious start (the opening descending scales feel devoid of mystery and pregnant significance) – grows in confidence and stature.

He seems to enjoy the virtuosity more than in his recent recording of Liszt’s concertos. Yet ultimately his playing rarely rises above the competent and formulaic.

True, his ‘Grandioso’ is noble, his cantando espressivo is lyrically appealing, his Allegro energico bristles with athleticism; but overall Marshev’s performance doesn’t hang together.

To my mind, it all sounds too literal and poetically compressed; the contrasts are ill-defined. The dynamics are generalized – try the fugue (track 3), where Liszt’s insistent piano markings are ignored in favour of a more forceful mezzo-forte, negating the impact of the delayed but inevitable crescendo (compare Demidenko here).

Equally, Marshev’s sense of timing and phrasing lacks sufficient shape. He fails to build structural tensions, whether within a phrase or larger musical paragraphs, or across the work’s whole architecture. The coda in particular falls disappointingly flat.

In short, for all Marshev’s considerable pianistic skill, this isn’t a recording to rival Lazaridis’s recent version, let alone Krystian Zimerman’s classic account which remains my benchmark recording.


Marshev’s disc also includes two relative rarities: Liszt’s arrangement of the ‘Gretchen’ movement from his Faust Symphony, and Tausig’s youthfully exuberant transcription of Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo, which especially suits Marshev’s temperament.