Liszt: Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne, S95; Lamento e Trionfo, S96; Les Préludes, S97; Orpheus, S98

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt: Symphonic poems
WORKS: Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne, S95; Lamento e Trionfo, S96; Les Préludes, S97; Orpheus, S98
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10341
The arch-Romantic sensibility nourishing Liszt’s symphonic poems is out of tune with the sensibilities of most performers today. Haitink in his complete recording (Philips) takes the works seriously enough but lacks the freedom, imagination, and flair that would make them ideally convincing; Masur (EMI) exhibits more character but is also more uneven. Chandos’s release, the first in a new cycle, likewise realises only partial success. Where vigour and energy matter, Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic sometimes achieve effective results – the concluding triumph of Tasso sounds genuinely grand under Noseda, painfully stilted under Haitink – and, thankfully, this performance of Les Préludes stresses flow over pomposity.

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One might nevertheless wish for a less martial-sounding climax for Orpheus (otherwise nicely played), and Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne reveals Noseda’s limitations. Tempestuous moments emerge brisk and efficient, introspective ones (such as the Andante religioso chorale for low brass) seem insufficiently prepared or cherished, and the ethereal cadenzas (first for solo violin, later for upper winds) are rendered with numbingly literal phrasing and tempo; here Haitink is freely expressive and coordinates ensemble between melody and accompanimental chords much more effectively. Despite evocative soft tam-tam strokes (beginning of track 2), there’s not much awe or majesty in Noseda’s mountains.

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Chandos’s sound improves on that in the Haitink and (especially) Masur sets, but the new performances supplement rather than supplant those versions. David Breckbill