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Rethinking Franz Liszt

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Read my review published today in the Style section of the Washington Post:

Charles T. Downey, Pianists Andre Watts and Evgeny Kissin offer Liszt recitals
Washington Post, March 8, 2011

available at Amazon
Kissin Plays Liszt
Live recordings, 1987-2003
(release on April 4)
Franz Liszt's music may be easy to dismiss, but it is as infrequently heard as it is widely misunderstood. The cliches are notorious: the trashy virtuoso, the sex-idol rock star (played appropriately by Roger Daltry in Ken Russell's manic biopic, "Lisztomania") and the repentant abbe. The 200th anniversary of the Hungarian composer's birth this year offers a chance to rediscover this arch-Romantic, one of the most prolific composers of the 19th century. Perhaps it is even time to reconsider the assertion of scholar Alan Walker that Liszt was, in the words of Bela Bartok, "the true father of modern music." Whether that title will lead you to love or hate Liszt more is a matter of personal taste.

Two all-Liszt recitals over the weekend, by pianists Andre Watts and Evgeny Kissin, offered food for thought. Stepping in to replace Nelson Freire on Sunday, Watts played the more rounded Liszt program of the two in his long-overdue debut at Baltimore's Shriver Hall. The highlight was a set of five pieces on the edge of atonality from Liszt's last years, including the "Bagatelle sans tonalite," which ends on a loud fully diminished seventh chord. In these sometimes bizarre works, many of which evoke the despair of the composer's old age (the wandering harmonies of "Nuages gris"), Liszt flirted with the extreme chromaticism ("En Reve"), augmented chords and whole-tone scales ("La lugubre gondola") that would provide paths out of tonality for later composers. [Continue reading]
Evgeny Kissin, piano (WPAS, Kennedy Center Concert Hall)
André Watts, piano (Shriver Hall)
Music by Franz Liszt

RCA will reportedly release a compilation of Liszt pieces played by Evgeny Kissin, recorded live, next month.



Martin Fritter said...

The comments on the Hough piece in the Guardian are fantastic. There remain people in the UK capable of the most florid invective.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hee hee, so true.