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Briefly Noted: Piemontesi's Colorful Liszt

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Liszt, Années de pèlerinage, 2ème Année ("Italie") / Légende No. 1 , F. Piemontesi

(released on May 24, 2019)
Orfeo C982191 | 62'19"

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1ère Année
It was a pleasure to discover Francesco Piemontesi earlier this year when he made his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra. Far more impressive than his take on a Rachmaninoff blockbuster was his encore, a sensitively voiced rendition of the slow movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. That experience led me to push the Swiss-Italian pianist's recordings toward the top of my listening rotation. His most recent release, the second year of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage, gives a varied and delightful cast to the composer's memories of his years in Italy.

Rather than Venezia e Napoli, the supplement Liszt later added to the second volume of his collection, Piemontesi prefaces it with the first of the Deux Légendes, pieces dedicated to miracles associated with Liszt's two name saints. This turns out to be the highlight of the disc, with pastel-light avian trills twittering around the unison lines of St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds.

More than the technical exploits of the Petrarch Sonnets and the dizzying excesses of "Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi sonata," it is these more musical moments that stand out. In the dreamy "Sposalizio," inspired by Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin in Milan, tinkling motifs rain down in the seraphic postlude. In the dirge-like "Penseroso," inspired by the moody sculpture of Michelangelo for the tomb of Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici in the "new sacristy" of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, Liszt explores the somber bass end of the keyboard. The latter artwork made quite an impression on Liszt, as he published the music with a quatrain of Michelangelo's he felt applied to the sculptor's portrait of Lorenzo: "I am thankful to sleep, and more thankful to be made of stone. So long as injustice and shame remain on earth, I count it a blessing not to see or feel; so do not wake me – speak softly!"

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