Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, première année (Suisse); Gounod opera paraphrases

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt Piano Works
WORKS: Années de pèlerinage, première année (Suisse); Gounod opera paraphrases
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67424
The first volume of Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage consists mainly of revisions of pieces written at the time he and his mistress Countess Marie d’Agoult eloped to Switzerland. The collection contains some of Liszt’s most beautiful tone-paintings, among them ‘Au lac de Wallenstadt’, ‘Au bord d’une source’ and the nocturne ‘Les cloches de Genève’. Stephen Hough handles this more intimate side of Liszt admirably, with playing of great expressive warmth. But in the more extrovert moments, such as the latter half of the great ‘Vallée d’Obermann’, I miss a certain degree of passion and urgency. For all the power of his octaves, there’s a slight literalness and dryness, too, about Hough’s performance of ‘Orage’. Alfred Brendel’s freer interpretation conjures up the storm with greater dramatic intensity, and manages to shape the melodic lines more convincingly. And is the second chord in the tied pairs at the start of the piece meant to be sounded, as in Hough’s performance, or is Liszt’s unconventional notation a means of ensuring that a single chord is held for its full duration? The latter interpretation, adopted by Brendel and others, is surely more effective.

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As a bonus, Hough throws in Liszt’s three operatic paraphrases from Gounod, playing the fine reverie after Romeo and Juliet quite beautifully, and tossing off the virtuoso transcription of the waltz from Faust with appropriate panache. Misha Donat