Maggie O’Herlihy Plays Liszt

0 of 5 stars

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Funérailles
Années de pèlerinage: Première Année – Suisse: Vallée d’Obermann
Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième Année – Italie: Sposalizio; Après une lecture du Dante

Maggie O’Herlihy (piano)

Recorded in 2004 in the Royal College of Music Studios and the Royal College of Music Concert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Carlos Rivera

Reviewed: March 2005
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Duration: 56 minutes

The rather black-and-white presentation of Tzar Records maybe visually conceals what can be very recommendable and colourful releases. And if there is something homespun about this label’s presentation, then there is no doubting that it can flatter to deceive, for this vibrant and perceptive recital of Liszt is very impressive. Maggie O’Herlihy is a new name to me and, unfortunately, there is no biography of her included with this release. There are, though, a couple of pictures of her and, presumably, it is her hands that adorn the front cover. O’Herlihy is a fine pianist, and she clearly has great sympathy for the music of Franz Liszt.

O’Herlihy exploits a wide dynamic and emotional range in her rendering of this composer, as ‘Sposalizio’, the first item, demonstrates; this is playing of tenderness and ardour, but the latter doesn’t sacrifice Liszt’s essential nobility, and O’Herlihy sees the piece whole. One wonders if the diminuendo on the final chord was achieved live or in the control room! The gap before ‘Funérailles’ is too short, but one is soon caught up in O’Herlihy’s fervour and also how musical motifs are links in the bigger musical picture. This is an uncompromising account of what Roderick Swanston, in his excellent booklet note, describes as Liszt’s “paean to the Hungarian dead in general and in particular to Battyány and the other thirteen Hungarian generals, whose execution on October 9 1849 seems to have been the trigger for Liszt’s moving tribute.”

In ‘Funérailles’ O’Herlihy conveys both rage and ‘in memoriam’ and the passion that underlines the music is carefully charted; the ostinato-dominated section two-thirds through (maybe inspired by Chopin) is of swirling wrath. O’Herlihy stresses the musical impulses ahead of the picturesque ones.

Such priority continues with the remaining pieces. ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ can sprawl, but seems here more mystic than is often the case, and the ‘Dante Sonata’ – the piano (a different one?) at its most tangy-sounding (recorded in the RCM’s Concert Hall and with a suspicion of fudged post-production), and with a slight rumble in the background – has the right sort of demonic rhetoric and enchanted quietude; O’Herlihy’s long-term approach renders the rousing coda as part of the scheme rather than as an applause-grabbing add-on.

These seem like unedited performances – although the variable sound in the ‘Dante Sonata’ suggests otherwise – yet if the production could have more finesse, and the sound be more focussed and natural, there’s no doubting Maggie O’Herlihy’s championing of Liszt is persuasive.

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