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COMPOSERS: Liszt/Brahms
LABELS: Minerva
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Petrarch Sonnetto No.123; Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel
PERFORMER: Peter Katin (piano)
Liszt’s output was prodigious not only in quantity but in variety, as these three discs show. Marc-André Hamelin’s live Wigmore Hall recital follows his revelatory and accomplished recent one of virtuoso Romantic piano music and the pieces here span Liszt’s career and styles, from the introspective, impressionistic Nuages gris to the rumbustious Hungarian Rhapsodies. Indeed, the disc is worth hearing just for the sensational account of the Rhapsody No. 2, which Hamelin invests with preternatural energy and sensitivity and to which he adds his own bravura cadenza. Also stunning are the Réminiscences de Don Juan, in which Liszt reconstructs (and deconstructs) the so-called ‘Champagne Aria’ and ‘Là ci darem’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, overshadowing both with the brooding and vivid presence of the Commendatore.


The transcriptions were not merely exercises in concert showmanship, however; perhaps their most important function was to popularise the work of those contemporary composers whom Liszt admired. Thomas Duis gives a representative sample of the Schubert transcriptions, with 12 songs from Winterreise as well as six of the best-known Lieder, including ‘Erlkönig’ and ‘Die Forelle’. This is an enjoyable alternative for those who do not want to invest in Leslie Howard’s complete edition, which runs to nine discs.


The Sonata in B minor is pre-eminent in the Romantic piano repertoire, but in his live 1983 recital Peter Katin – although technically admirable – can seem underpowered and at times even disengaged, a sense that is accentuated by the rather dry acoustic. The lyrical sections and the fugue are beautifully crafted, but there is little of the transcendental and hypnotic drama that characterises Demidenko’s recording, for instance, on Hyperion. The Brahms Variations, however, are given with elegance and wit.