Fantasy and Fugue on the theme
Années de Pèlerinage (Troisième année) Les jeux deau à la Villa dEste
Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Sonata in B minor
Julian Evans (piano)
No information supplied regarding recording date or location
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: December 2003
CD No: ORGANUM CLASSICS Ogm 230063
This CD by the young German-based English pianist Julian Evans has much going for it. It is undoubtedly a quality production, well engineered even if recorded in a slightly resonant acoustic. We are offered comprehensive booklet notes, the cover adorned by a wonderfully revealing cover photo of Liszt, dressed in the height of fashion, every inch the superstar, before his transformation into the venerable Abbé Liszt of later years. The disc is extremely well-filled and the programme very carefully chosen, comprising as it does two resounding Bach-inspired pieces interleaved with the more reflective Liszt of Les jeux d’eau and Benediction before culminating in the Everest of piano writing, the B minor Sonata. Julian Evans is more than equal to the music’s technical demands.
As Peter Cossé’s slightly florid essay points out, Liszt’s Sonata has been recorded more than 200 times. Whilst Evans’s is among the work’s better recordings, and whilst there is absolutely no doubt as to his impressive command of the notes, there are certain weaknesses. Principal amongst these is the way that Evans reinforces rather than surmounts the episodic nature of the piece. Rather than the ear being led naturally and inevitably to the final apotheosis, too often the music is either becalmed or subjected to bursts of frenetic activity. Also there is a reluctance to let the work’s true climaxes fully expand fully, as if Evans were slightly ill at ease with the rhetoric.
The opening B-A-C-H Fantasy, and the Variations, both fare much better, the former reaching a thunderous conclusion entirely appropriate and convincing. A curious contradiction: it is Evans’s ’inspired literalism’ that serves both pieces particularly well.
The only performance which does seriously disappoint is Les jeux d’eau. The fountains near the Villa d’Este are a magical sight, especially at night, as the water cascades down the hillside. Evans fails to capture that magic, differentiating insufficiently between the decorative and the essential, the tone colours too little varied. However, the massive inner calm of the much longer Benediction is wonderfully projected. This is large-scale late-Liszt at his most convincing.
Some reservations aside, if this well thought-out programme appeals, do not hold back.