Thalberg: Opera Fantasies

Performed by pianist Mark Viner.

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Thalberg
LABELS: Piano Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Thalberg
WORKS: Opera Fantasies
PERFORMER: Mark Viner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PCL 0092

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Sigismond Thalberg is famous as the man who threatened Liszt’s pianistic supremacy in 1830s Paris, leading to a virtuoso ‘duel’ in 1837. Known almost exclusively for his operatic piano fantasies, Thalberg’s writing may not encompass the imaginative range and originality of Liszt, but his best works demonstrate that he was clearly a superlative pianist, and knew how to dress a good tune.

Good tunes and elaborate dressing abound here. The young British pianist Mark Viner is superbly adept in this repertoire, especially at subordinating and shaping decorative passagework, although at times he could be even bolder in sustaining and projecting the melodic line. While the warm, soft-edged sound suits the clarity and refinement of Viner’s playing, it can overly mollify waves of full-throated, lavishly ornamented melody – as in the famous three-hand effect towards the end of the Fantasia on Moise.

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Neither the attractive fantasy after Mozart’s Don Giovanni nor the elaborately over-written Act II sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor rival Liszt’s examples, but the Grand Caprice on Bellini’s La Sonnambula is a more subtly wrought piece. The best track comes last – the Grande Fantaisie on Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is one of Thalberg’s finest works, made (relatively) famous by Earl Wild’s 1964 recording. Wild revels more fully in the grand rhetorical style, but it is a measure of Viner’s superb performance that he isn’t outclassed. Very promising. Tim Parry