Liszt: Symphony d’après la Divine

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COMPOSERS: Franz Liszt
LABELS: Actes Sud
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt: Symphony d’après la Divine
WORKS: Symphony d’après la Divine; Comédie de Dante, S109; Orpheus
PERFORMER: Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth


This is a situation where the recorded sound makes the overall quality of the release difficult to assess. As with Schumann and Mendelssohn, Liszt’s mid-19th century orchestration tends to benefit strongly from the clearer focus of period-instrument sound compared to the modern equivalent.

But any such advantage is subverted here by the bizarre recorded balance, with very closely placed strings, middle-perspective woodwind, fairly distant brass, and much faithful capturing of the conductor’s sharp intakes of breath. The result manages to be both wearingly in-your-face and strangely reductive, as if trying to present what are probably Liszt’s two finest orchestral works as chamber music.

Allowing for this distorting mirror, the performances have fine qualities: François-Xavier Roth and his expert players unleash high drama in the Dante Symphony’s ‘Inferno’ first movement, and bring a sense of space to the beautiful opening of its ‘Purgatorio’ successor. But the insistence on keeping anything resembling lyrical expression on the tightest rein becomes exasperating: the Francesca da Rimini episode in ‘Inferno’ surely needs more grace than this. So does the musical poetry of Orpheus – the most equable and the loveliest of Liszt’s symphonic poems, but you probably wouldn’t gather as much from this recording.


Malcolm Hayes