Sailing the spring tide of Romanticism, defining modern piano technique, a journey from childhood to manhood, the death of Weber to the 1851 Great Exhibition, “a part of his musical autobiography in public” (Alan Walker), Liszt's Transcendental Studies, Busoni maintained, should be “put at the head of his pianoforte compositions, [placing him] in the rank of the greatest pianoforte composers since Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Alkan, Brahms.” In their pages are to be encountered “the Mephistophelian and the Religious: he who acknowledges God does not value the Devil less – the sentimental and the inspired” characteristic of Liszt’s art as a whole. Via a circle of falling fifths, enshrining the monumental, the Herculean, they essay mechanicals, musicality, emotion, caprice, symphonism, epithets … the programmatic, the suggestive, the impressionistic … fantasy, rhapsody, poem, dream. There's nothing like them in the repertory – the Matterhorn of an era.
Dinara Klinton, from Kharkiv in the Ukraine – 2014-15 Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow at the Royal College of Music – was mentored by Vladimir Krainev and studied in Moscow with Valery Pyasetsky (Central Music School) and Eliso Virsaladze (Conservatoire). Dina Parakhina, a Malinin disciple, has been overseeing her postgraduate and competition schedule in London. Grounded in the Blumenfeld / Godowsky / Neuhaus tradition that produced Horowitz, Barere, Yudina, Gilels and Richter, she's an artist of refined sensibility and high-pressure technique. Her passions surge and swirl, consuming the listener. She can sing a line and hold a paragraph with majesty, her 'thrown' melodic projection almost aria-like. Making beautiful sounds, voicing chords with clarity, developing tone, is a priority. Her bass notes tread the elemental. Her climaxes, reaching quickening, explosive release from nowhere, are on an oceanic scale. Knife-edge drama, bold images, matter to her.
“Learning the complete Transcendental Studies", says Klinton, "had been my child's dream, performing them – my youth's aim, recording them – my senior urge. Liszt explores the infinite variety of human life via feelings of joy, sorrow, love, anger, dignity and defeat." Entering a fiercely competitive arena, her album, classily produced in Leipzig’s Mendelssohn-Saal (an airy acoustic), lets no one down. The pianism is intensely drilled. The emotional voltage is super-charged. The instrument (a well-disposed Steinway) roars and thunders, caresses and yields. Octaves cascade down the heavens like streaked lighting; cadenzas open out gently – kisses on the wind; chandeliers of sound glint icily, fierily; cadences pause, move on, and find old-world rest.
Judge this project on its own terms, forget comparisons. That some numbers are slower than the great gramophone trail-blazers, others quicker, is of no consequence. Klinton has determined ideas, she stands by them, and she creates an organic landscape which she wanders and rules over with easy grace and authentically grand rhetoric.
The slow numbers become magnificent, fabulous tone-poems of infinitely terraced longing: ‘Ricordanza’ (“faded love letters” – Busoni); ‘Harmonies du soir’ (sounds and perfumes in the air, a tormented heart, a sad beautiful sky spread like a vast altar before the drowning sun). For Klinton ‘Feux follets’ – will-o’-the-wisps, malignant impish spirits leading travellers to their doom – proves a brilliant, purling tour-de-force, expressively articulated rather than merely note-spun, its phrasing, breathing and elegance of touch more than once questioning Richter (Bolet and Berezovsky too).
Among the more headstrong canvases ‘Mazeppa’ is tireless and epic, swathes of muscular D-minor strength offset by veils of humming vibrato assai. If its gear changes seem odd, editorially generated even, the score confirms an admirable fidelity to the page. Dinara Klinton is a player to watch.