Liszt: Funeral Odes

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: From the Cradle to the Grave; Three Funeral Odes; Two episodes from Lenau’s Faust
PERFORMER: Glasgow Singers; BBC Scottish SO/ Ilan Volkov


This enterprising and absorbing release finds Liszt in sombre mood almost throughout, in a succession of little-known works of the highest quality. The very late symphonic poem Vom der Wiege bis zumGrabe (From the Cradle to the Grave) has in its outer sections the remote, enigmatic fatalism of the last piano pieces. The first of the three Odes funèbres, ‘Les morts’ (which employs a chorus) was prompted by the death of Liszt’s son Daniel, the second, ‘La notte’, by that of his daughter Blandine – and by Michelangelo’s sculpture of the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici, already celebrated in Années de pèlerinage. The last, ‘Le triomphe funèbre de Tasso’, presents itself as an epilogue to the well-known Tasso symphonic poem, but may well be Liszt’s meditation on his own mortality. These are austere, dark-hued, deeply-felt utterances.

As for the Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust, we all know the ‘Mephisto Waltz’, but almost never hear its deeply impressive companion, the ‘Nächtliche Zug’ (Procession by Night) whose awesome central march is based on the ‘Pange lingua’ plainchant; the searingly dissonant introduction to the despairing coda must be one of the most astonishing pages Liszt ever wrote. Even the ‘Mephisto Waltz’ is not quite its usual self, for Ilan Volkov gives us Liszt’s rarely-heard alternative ending – longer and grimmer than the usual devilish Presto.
Volkov shapes all these pieces with what seems perfect understanding of their different shades of gloom or grief, and the playing of BBC Scottish, helped by Hyperion’s first-rate recording, is also perfectly attuned to the light and shade of Liszt’s sound-palette. Altogether  a revelatory album: this combination of works actually says something new about Liszt’s quality as an orchestral composer. Calum MacDonald