The Four Ballades – in G minor, Op.23; in F, Op.38; in A flat, Op.47; in F minor, Op.52
Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième Année, Italie – Après une lecture du Dante (Fantasia quasi sonata)
Lise de la Salle (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 12 September, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The BBC’s commitment to regular live chamber and vocal music on a Monday lunchtime means there is no gap between the Proms Chamber Music series and the start of a new season at Wigmore Hall. Perhaps inevitably there was more Liszt on offer, though the ‘Dante Sonata’ was a good choice from Lise de la Salle in the face of an overload of performances of its B minor companion.
She began with Chopin’s Four Ballades, composed and published separately over a period of approximately eight years but now regularly played together. Despite her slight build it was soon apparent that Lise de la Salle packs quite a punch at the keyboard, and climactic points of the First and Fourth Ballades in particular were explosive and lost some refinement. These contrasted greatly with the music around them, and de la Salle took an expansive approach to the quiet opening of each piece, rubato well in evidence along with the occasional unexpected accent. This tactic was also employed in the quiet chords ushering in the coda of the Fourth, the music stretched out to its limit before taking off again. However the A flat Ballade benefited from this treatment, with a subtlety to the tempo variations that was tastefully employed, leading in to the attractive swing of the triple-time theme. It was clear throughout these interpretations that de la Salle has invested a lot of time in the music. While the outer two pieces made the greatest impact where volume was concerned it was the Second that was the most successful, paced and phrased in a way that allowed Chopin’s melodies to shine.
The ‘Dante Sonata’ is one of those works most adhering to the Liszt stereotype of tragedy and heroic romance, and in the wrong hands insight and tension can be sacrificed for volume and virtuosity. While de la Salle could never be accused of under commitment, this was an account that was often brutal in its sheer force, the huge triton motifs hammered out, which certainly brought out Liszt’s obsession with this interval, and there was an undeniable satisfaction when this devilish device was hunted down successfully to become a perfect fifth in the massive final peroration. Yet the hunt was often bloody, melodic detail suffering with over-use of sustaining pedal, the quiet passages providing less respite than they might have done.
We had more Liszt in the encore, a delicate and flowing rendition of his arrangement of Schumann’s ‘Widmung’ (Dedication) from his Opus 25 Myrthen song-cycle restored some parity.