Liszt/Leslie Howard – New Discoveries Volume 3 [Hyperion]

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Liszt
“Romancero espagnol, Trois chansons, Two further pieces from Christus, the first version of the Scherzo und Marsch, Album-Leaves, and several first thoughts and intermediate drafts”

Leslie Howard (piano)

Recorded 20-22 April 2009 in All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London


Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: February 2011
CD No: HYPERION
CDA67810 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes

 

 

One of the great recording enterprises, Hyperion’s Liszt series with Leslie Howard continues its appendices in the form of this third volume of “New Discoveries”. Two longer pieces appear on the first disc, while the second comprises several transcriptions alongside a veritable sheaf of Album-Leaves.

The 1845 Romancero espagnol was intended for publication in 1847, but it didn’t happen. To compound matters, the pages of the MS are not numbered. Leslie Howard’s version gives the piece in three clear sections, each with a theme to itself. Howard’s touch is remarkable, as much for its delicacy as for its strength. The outgoing, Spanish through and through finale is remarkable. Howard realises the abounding diversity of Liszt’s textures and conveys this richness faultlessly, while invoking the spirit of the dance.

The oratorio “Christus” has never attained popularity. Here are two sections taken from the vocal score as arranged by the composer, ‘Introduction and Pastorale’ and ‘Das Wunder’ (The Miracle). Dated as around 1871, the music seems to have many characteristics of Liszt’s late period. Howard makes the first movement supremely meditative; the ‘Pastorale’ is simply delicious in terms of texture, evincing a sense of suspended disbelief. The second movement moves from initial dark rumblings via some passages that frankly do sound like a piano transcription.

The Magnificat is the first draft of the Alleluia (S183/1) and remains unpublished. Howard makes it sound grand and proud. Although the sources of Trois Chansons are not known, Liszt’s transcriptions are pure delight. Howard gives them the dignity they require. In total contrast comes the too-brief, ultra-tender Album-Leaf (S166p). Like the one catalogued as S166q, this came to light in a 2006 auction (Howard copied them before they were sold!). Both are exquisitely song-like (the second is a shorter version of the sixth Consolation and is absolutely delicious, especially in Howard’s performance with its superb cantabile). After these, the theme of the Variations, ‘Tiszántuli szép léany (S384a), seems infinitely childlike. The authorship of this set of variations is questionable – perhaps Liszt oversaw its composition?. Still, it is two-and-a-half minutes of pure delight.

Howard’s control of Bellini-like cantabile enables the Romance by Michael Wielhorsky (1756-1866) to sing magnificently. First, he presents what is referred to as the “first intermediate version” (the second such version opens the second disc). This is pure magic, with Lisztian flights of fantasy inserted as if they are the most natural digressions. The second version is shorn of a whole minute’s music (25-percent of the duration of the first version) – which seems quite cruel for such a short piece. Perhaps that is why Howard uses it as a lead-in to the Berlioz arrangement that one hears next on that disc.

Schlummerlied is the second intermediate version of the seventh movement of the enchanting Christmas Tree Suite. It is heard here in a copyist’s reproduction of the first version, a copy in the possession of Carl Lachmund (1857-1928) who worked for Schirmer. Perfumed and mysterious, it is based on harmonies one might consider more sophisticated than expected for a piece of such origins. Howard’s hushed delivery seems suffused with sleepy expectation. The first disc ends with Valse-Impromptu in an “Edition facilitée”: salon music par excellence.

The original of Berlioz’s Marche des pèlerins (Harold in Italy) uses lots of repetition of material, enlivened by varied scorings. Liszt made an arrangement in around 1836/7 for piano (another, much later second version is available in Volume 5 of the present series, while an arrangement for viola and piano is on volume 23). Howard conjures a lovely cantabile that projects the viola’s long line well. On piano it is fore-grounded more than one hears in the original, creating a solo line with mesmeric accompaniment. Liszt’s entirely characteristic decorations create sonorities of real beauty. If the shape of the piece (processional-recessional) is best heard in Berlioz’s magnificent scoring, Howard reminds us that Liszt could put his own characteristic take on colleagues’ works. The chimes of the end of the piano version are particularly effective. The 1876 version of the ‘Entry of the Guests into the Wartburg’ from “Tannhäuser” finds Liszt allowing himself to elaborate more on Wagner’s original than he had in previous editions of this transcription. Howard’s performance exudes nobility.

Except for Wilde Jagd, the remainder of the second disc comprises short pieces. A brief Adagio non troppo (mid-1820s, identical to the introduction to the Allegro di bravura found in Volume 26) is beautifully shaped by Howard. The Album Leaves are marvellous snippets of Webernian brevity, often tailing off into questioning silence. The effect of a straight listen through is as mesmerising and disorienting as it is tantalising. The brief (19 second) cadenza to the First Mephisto Waltz leads to a 1”40’ Albumblatt on the same Waltz, a brief snippet of unrest.

Finally, Wilde Jagd: Scherzo (1851), the first version of Scherzo und Marsch (erudite readers will recognise the title of Wilde Jagd from Transcendental Studies), first published in 2009. Howard’s virtuosity is highly impressive and a fine end to a fascinating set.


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