Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat; Malédiction; Grande fantaisie symphonique; Totentanz; Hexaméron

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat; Malédiction; Grande fantaisie symphonique; Totentanz; Hexaméron
PERFORMER: Leslie Howard (piano); Budapest SO/Karl Anton Rickenbacher
Leslie Howard’s monumental Liszt survey will encompass some 95 CDs upon completion in 1999. Noted for his venturesome fusion of bravura pianism and musicological insight, Australian-born Howard ranks highly among leading exponents of Liszt’s piano music. His Hyperion odyssey now reaches Vol. 53 (a and b) – the works for piano and orchestra.


Liszt’s two piano concertos are well represented in the catalogues. Howard’s solo playing can withstand comparison with the finest around, though I’ve lingering reservations about sound quality and orchestral support. Telarc’s spectacular engineering for André Watts (from the Meyerson Center, Dallas, Texas) yields thrilling impact and presence, while Andrew Litton’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra sounds altogether more glamorous and polished than Rickenbacher’s occasionally ragged Hungarians. Watts is a visionary Lisztian; his performances constantly illuminate these virtuoso warhorses, and Telarc’s phenomenal recording is unparalleled. Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s Decca accounts with Charles Dutoit also set the adrenalin coursing, and their 1992 disc (433 075-2) includes highly idiomatic performances of the Hungarian Fantasy and Totentanz.


Leslie Howard’s reading of the posthumous E flat Concerto eclipses Steven Mayer’s ground-breaking ASV version (also coupled with De profundis), and it is in these uncharted backwaters that Howard is heard to fullest advantage. Equally, there are no finer performances of the Lélio and Ruins of Athens Fantaisies available (though Michel Béroff’s EMI reissue with Masur and the Gewandhaus represents good value despite slightly astringent sound), leaving Leslie Howard’s complete edition largely unchallenged in specialised areas of the repertory. Even so, collectors requiring the concertos alone will find André Watts’s spellbinding Telarc disc unmissable. Michael Jameson