Liszt: Dante Symphony; Two Legends

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Dante Symphony; Two Legends
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10524

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As a passionate admirer of the Faust Symphony, I’ve always felt that passages of the ‘Inferno’ movement of the Dante Symphony need a fair amount of help, especially when Liszt gets stuck in diminished seventh mode.

Whether Noseda agrees or not, he takes the movement at a generally brisk pace, with incisive articulation when required. Barenboim’s slower tempos, for me, only serve to draw attention to the near-vulgarity of the more infernal moments and I don’t feel his interpretation ever really recovers.

Conversely, in the Andante amoroso section of the movement Barenboim injects considerable energy, presumably responding to the ‘molto appassionato’ marking, but at the expense of the ‘dolce con intimo sentimento’ one. The high strings of the Berlin Philharmonic are, as always, superb, but Noseda’s more reflective account gives the BBC violins that extra breathing space which the music needs.

Sadly, both recordings prompt reservations. In the final Magnificat, the Ladies of the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus project clear words and stay on the audible side of ethereal, while the Berlin ladies are so distant as to sound unconnected to the main event; but although Noseda, unlike Barenboim, respects Liszt’s request for a solo soprano, Gillian Keith is rather below her best form.

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Noseda also cuts short a couple of important rests before bass clarinet recitatives in the first movement. He does allow his strings one or two romantic slides in ‘St François de Paule’ (one of the Two Legends), but elsewhere both conductors are niggardly in this respect. So, Noseda by several lengths, but the field is still open. Roger Nichols