WORKS: Works for Piano & Orchestra, Vol. 1: Wanderer Fantasy; Fantasy on a Theme from Beethoven’s ‘The Ruins of Athens’; Polonaise brillante; Symphonic Fantasy on Themes from Berlioz’s ‘Lelio’
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano); The Hague Residentie Orchestra/George Pehlivanian
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9801
Tovey dubbed Schubert’s C major Wanderer Fantasy ‘the earliest and best of symphonic poems’. Liszt transformed it into a piano concerto in all but name, in which Canadian pianist Louis Lortie sounds dutifully circumspect throughout this orderly, but never hair-raising new performance. Leslie Howard’s 1998 Hyperion account (like the late Jorge Bolet’s on Decca) explores wider vistas, with a pianistic strength and security in Liszt’s bewildering coruscations that Lortie cannot match.
He’s more comfortable in the Polonaise brillante after Weber (S367), but the lack of any natural flow in this episodic work makes his bravura gestures seem more contrived than spontaneous, as in the Lelio fantasy, based on Berlioz’s companion piece to his Symphonie fantastique.
Leslie Howard’s survey of Liszt’s works for piano and orchestra (Vols 53a and 53b of Hyperion’s Liszt Edition) includes benchmark alternatives for these works. Howard is, by general consensus, probably the finest living exponent of Liszt, and his traversals afford all-enveloping verve and charisma, tremendous daring (Howard’s risk-taking comes off; Lortie’s doesn’t) and a formidable intellectual grasp of the music. Lortie’s ongoing series might gather momentum, but Howard’s impressive track record as a Lisztian, and vastly superior performances will, I think, continue to carry the day. Michael Jameson