Odyssey of Love: Liszt and his women

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Deux-Elles
ALBUM TITLE: Odyssey of Love: Liszt and his women
WORKS: Piano works by Liszt, plus readings from letters and diaries
PERFORMER: Lucy Parham (piano); Juliet Stevenson & Henry Goodman (narrators)
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1156

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Lucy Parham has carved out a unique concert-hall slot with her words-and-music portraits of the lives (and loves) of the great pianist-composers: Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, and now Liszt. To achieve this requires multiple artistic and organisational skills – researching and compiling the texts, securing the services of top-flight actors to narrate, devising the music to fit, and performing this herself. Despite the title, there’s nothing remotely sensation-seeking about the contents of this release. On the contrary, Liszt emerges as the contradictory and likeable individual that he clearly was – a phenomenon whose personality, like his music, combined spectacle with reflectiveness and, in his later years, much melancholy.

Henry Goodman and Juliet Stevenson excel in their spoken portrayals of the man himself and of the two high-octane leading ladies in his life, Countess Marie d’Agoult and Princesse Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. Linking the readings, Parham’s playing searches out a memorable strand of lyrical artistry and tonal loveliness (beautifully recorded in Suffolk’s Potton Hall). There are no dud interpretations, and the best – Petrarch Sonnet No. 104, Un Sospiro – could hold their own pretty much anywhere. Although stretched a little by the relentless technical demands of Chasse-Neige, Parham nonetheless brings out all its haunting poetry – a quality she also finds in the sparer, late-Liszt sound-world of Sancta Dorothea and Am Grabe Richard Wagners.

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Malcolm Hayes