Louis Lortie Waltzes

Selections from Valses nobles (D969) & Valses sentimentales (D779)
Valses caprices d’après Schubert – Soirées de Vienna No.6
Symphonie fantastique – Un bal
Quatre valses oubliées – Nos.1 & 2
Faust – Valse
Five Variations on a theme of Schubert
Valse nobles et sentimentales
La valse

Louis Lortie (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 12 April, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Louise Lortie is now 46 and his appearances in this country are relatively rare. In this recital he presented waltz-related pieces spanning 125 years. He is not noted as a Schubertian and the opening bars of Lortie’s selection were far too loud, and with too much pedal which made it difficult for him to vary his tone and expression. In addition, particularly in the central sections of each piece, the phrasing was limpid but unshaped and there was little sense of ebb and flow or dynamic nuance. The first Valse sentimentales was stiff and lacked fantasy. Interestingly he played the Liszt arrangement of Schubert, without any pause, and used exactly the same expressive devices, everything merged into a warm romantic glow with little between p and ff; again the sustaining pedal was overused.

Liszt’s transcriptions of symphonic works such as the Berlioz and all the Beethoven symphonies was in part an attempt to make the works better known, but given the glorious nature of Berlioz’s orchestration and instrumental colour any piano arrangement is going to be problematic. It became even more so when Lortie failed to imbue the waltz theme with any sense of graceful, wistful melancholy; as with the Schubert there was no light and shade and the piece simply became a foursquare vehicle for virtuoso display. Lortie’s playing of the Gounod was better, the main theme had enormous power and swing, the fingerwork in the central slower section was crystalline and the dynamic range very wide. But in the final pages – despite being note-perfect – the glorying in the sound of the piano and bravura display, which the likes of Lazar Berman and Horowitz brought to Liszt’s music, was absent. In the intervening Valses oubliées, the second was gentle and reflective, but the more famous first piece lacked any sense of fantasy and caprice.

After the interval Lortie played Lachenmann’s totally unmemorable Variations, a real mongrel of a work with elements of Debussy, Schoenberg, Prokofiev and many others, but no memorable ideas or unifying voice, and once again Lortie sounded uninterested in the music. When he launched into the Ravel his playing changed. Suddenly there was natural rubato, an exceptionally wide tonal palette, gradations of dynamic and rhythm, and phrasing which sounded spontaneous. Even Lortie’s body-language changed. In the other pieces he hadn’t looked relaxed, but in the Ravel his body swayed with the music. This was exceptional Ravel playing; Lortie’s hands and heart seemed to work as one, a symbiosis produced an ending to the Valses nobles et sentimentales which was exquisitely rapt, the final chord seeming to last forever. The violent conclusion to La Valse was suitably disturbing.

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