Not all of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies are flat-out showpieces like the best-known ones, so this disc makes for a better listening program than you might expect. And Jénö Jandó, who must be the hardest-working pianist in the recording business, has a real flair for this music. He plays with the combination of free rhythms and virtuosity that the music demands, and he even indulges in a bit of improvisation when the spirit moves him. This was probably something Liszt did himself, and other great Liszt interpreters such as Rachmaninov and Cziffra have done the same thing. Jandó doesn't quite have Cziffra's overwhelming virtuosity, but he plays musically and the result is a highly entertaining disc.
The Naxos team consisting of pianist Jenö Jandó, the chamber orchestra Concentus Hungaricus and conductor Mátyás Antal came together again in May, June and July 1990 in order to record this, 11 volumes of the Naxos Complete Mozart Piano Concertos, and it seems to me that they had lost nothing of the impetus created by the previous issues, most of which were definite five-star material.
Although highly productive and respected in his lifetime as a composer of Lieder, Robert Franz (1815–92) has since become a peripheral figure in music history. One reason may be that he avoids dramatic contrasts and instead aims at an emotional ambiguity: ‘My representation of joy is always tinged with melancholy, whilst that of suffering is always accompanied by an exquisite sensation of losing oneself’, he once wrote to Liszt. As a consequence his music appeals to those who are able ‘to admire the nuances of a charcoal drawing without longing for the colours of a painting’, to quote from Georges Starobinski’s liner notes to this recording. As they began to explore the songs of Franz, Starobinski and the baritone Christian Immler were moved by their findings to devise a programme which includes 23 of the composer’s often quite brief songs. Using the poet Heinrich Heine as their guiding star, they present these – all Heine settings but from different opus groups – in the form of two ‘imagined’ song cycles.
Li plays with a rare combination of virtuoso skill & poetic interpretations, each note he plays a reminder of why, in 2000, his music inspired the jury of the 14th International Chopin Piano Competition to give out the 1st top prize in 15 years to the then 18-year-old boy . . . “His maturity is obvious from the arrangements of the rhythmic transitions to the superb control of strength variations, which is known as the most difficult part of Chopin’s compositions”, (notes director Zhang Guoyong, who conducted the concert.) “It won’t be long before he is a maestro,” Zhang predicts.
Anticipating the developments of his maturity, Franz Liszt's Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is an important transitional piece, if not especially coherent or profound. Liszt's sentimentality and chronic showmanship prevent this set of pious reveries from achieving the deepest spiritual dimensions. But there are many reflective moments in this work that indicate a growing seriousness and even presage the dark emotions and austerity of his final period. While the Invocation, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, and the Cantique d'amour are predictably ecstatic in their climaxes, each contains sustained passages of calm introspection.