Liszt: Eine Faust-Symphonie

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Eine Faust-Symphonie
PERFORMER: Hans Peter Blochwitz (tenor)Hungarian Radio Chorus, Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: 454 460-2
It takes some doing to challenge the supremacy of Bernstein (DG) and Rattle (EMI) in Liszt’s orchestral masterpiece. But Fischer and his orchestra, who have already brought us acclaimed accounts of Bartók’s ballet scores, delve as deeply into Liszt’s ‘three character portraits’ as either of these rivals. The Symphony requires much of its performers: an orchestral virtuosity that can encompass diabolical power as well as chamber-music intimacy, and a delineation of character as well as structural logic. Where Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic fulfils all these requirements, the Hungarians bring a slightly earthier approach that in turn is more endearingly human and emotionally involving. Here the contrasts between the portrayal of Faust’s thirst for knowledge and Mephistopheles’s twisting of it to his own ends are strongly cast (not least through the masterly way Liszt bends the same themes into use for both protagonists) and the spinning of Gretchen’s chamber music is warmly suave.

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Fischer generously provides both endings to the Symphony on separate tracks, the earlier one for orchestra alone, the later with tenor soloist and male chorus. (Surely, though, they should have been placed the other way round, so that the more standard choral version can be heard without recourse to programming or the ‘track forward’ button.) Blochwitz is kinder on the ear than Peter Seiffert for Rattle, but the latter’s chorus is more powerful at the climax. With a detailed, rich sound this new account can nevertheless be confidently recommended. Matthew Rye