Liszt: A Faust Symphony

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WORKS: A Faust Symphony
PERFORMER: Peter Seiffert (tenor)Ernst Senff Chorus, Prague Philharmonic Chorus (men’s voices), Berlin PO/Simon Rattle
The satanic machinations of Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles find fullest orchestral expression in Franz Liszt’s A Faust Symphony. Strongly polarised accounts from Chailly (Decca), Inbal (Denon) and D’Avalos (Pickwick) have appeared during the past year, but the newest, and arguably finest of recent contenders, is Simon Rattle, whose unusually combative live Berlin performance instantly surpasses its rivals.


Rattle’s Faust, a feverishly ambitious yet rash hero, diabolically ensnared by powers beyond his comprehension, is a more charismatic portrayal than either Chailly’s or Inbal’s; D’Avalos may be excluded because of poor orchestral playing. Tormented cameos of Faust as mystic, man of action and romantic are brilliantly wrought by Rattle; his urgent rhythmic control and dynamically sustained basic tempo throughout the first movement are certainly gripping. Although Inbal reveals greater simplicity of utterance and unaffected spontaneity during the second character portrait, that of the unsullied, and hitherto unattainable Gretchen, Chailly’s Deutsches SO, Berlin, is strongly eclipsed by the Philharmonic under Rattle in the Mephistopheles finale. Here, mesmeric forces of negation are unleashed with greater sardonic intensity, and the demonic virtuosity of the playing is hair-raising.


The sole caveat concerns the brisk tempo selected for the final ‘Chorus Mysticus’, added by Liszt for the Weimar premiere in 1857. Rattle’s exemplary synthesis of drama, introspection and diablerie needs greater redemptive assurance at the close, though Peter Seiffert sings eloquently of the virtues of absolution enshrined in untarnished womanhood. In summary, a thrilling and deeply committed performance. Recommended. Michael Jameson