Liszt: Années de pèlerinage I & II – extracts; St François d’Assise; Bagatelle ohne Tonart; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 (arr. Volodos) etc

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt
WORKS: Années de pèlerinage I & II – extracts; St François d’Assise; Bagatelle ohne Tonart; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 (arr. Volodos) etc
PERFORMER: Arcadi Volodos (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 28276873802 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Although there’s much more to Liszt than virtuoso fireworks, those fireworks matter. And Arcadi Volodos’s recording of some of Liszt’s greatest hits is one to induce blinking, gasping, multiple couldn’t believe-my-ears replays, and the occasional, entirely appropriate swoon. Opening with the mighty ‘Vallée d’Obermann’, Volodos declaims, scampers, blazes and muses his way through a well-chosen selection, ranging from the forward gazing harmonies of the Bagatelle ohne Tonart to the cimbalom-fizz of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13, and from the reflective Bach transcription ‘Weinen, Klagen…’ to a near-manic account of Funérailles.

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Nevertheless, the fireworks do slightly eclipse the composer’s other facets. The disc is a little like a tiara made entirely of diamonds – now and then one longs to glimpse a ruby or two. Volodos’s clarity of touch is remarkable (you can picture every feather of St François’s avian friends), his tone is consistently refulgent and he plumbs to the depths the pensive, doom-laden worlds of Funérailles and Le lugubre gondola. Yet this towering virtuoso stays firmly on his distant pedestal. A little more intimacy and sensuality could perhaps have added some welcome, personal warmth to the dazzle. The recorded sound is fine and faithful, though there’s some audible thumping from the pedal. Jessica Duchen