Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Totentanz

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Totentanz
PERFORMER: Boris Berezovsky (piano)Philharmonia Orchestra/Hugh Wolff
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-96517-2 DDD
Boris Berezovsky’s headlong plunge into the First Piano Concerto bristles with energy and showmanship. He pulls the tempi hither and thither, investing an already highly virtuosic opening with an extra layer of dramatic excitement. The orchestra responds in kind, at one moment brash and brassy, then subsiding rapidly to allow woodwind soloists the maximum possible exposure in a series of lyrical interchanges with the piano. It is so thrilling that Nelson Freire’s perfectly adequate performance rather pales by comparison. Here there is a greater sense of the work being allowed to speak for itself. The tempi are more naturalistic, the Dresden string playing is less strident, and there is no sense of virtuosity for its own sake. The lack of artifice is quite beguiling, but it cannot be said to add up to a better performance. Liszt’s concertos thrive on detailed coloration and precise articulation, not to mention sheer élan, qualities which are much better provided for by Berezovsky and the Philharmonia.

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The differences between these performances could be attributed in part to the recording balance. In the gloomy Totentanz, for example, used on both discs as a filler, the Dresden trombones are almost inaudible, so the opening ‘Dies irae’ declaration comes over as a hazy mush against the Philharmonia’s thunder.