Leslie Howard's recordings of Liszt s complete piano music, on 99 CDs, is one of the monumental achievements in the history of recorded music. Remarkable as much for its musicological research and scholarly rigour as for Howard's Herculean piano playing, this survey remains invaluable to serious lovers of Liszt. Every known note of Liszt's piano music has been recorded and is included here: Leslie Howard's 57 original volumes plus the further 3 supplements. GUINNESS WORLD RECORD for the world s largest recording series by a solo artist.
This is as complete a representation as humanly possible of all the music scored for violin and piano that Franz Liszt composed, arranged, or had some creative hand in. The 17 works span Liszt's entire career, from the young composer's elegant Zwei Walzer to his experimental late period (the two Elegies and the stark, foreboding La lugubre gondola).
This 1990 disc featuring Grieg's Piano Concerto and Liszt's Second Piano Concerto, with six of Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano, was Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes' big label debut as a soloist. It was a smash, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Andsnes has gone on to one of the most successful careers of any pianist of his generation. Hearing the performances in this un-remastered reissue, it's easy to understand why: Andsnes is a fire-eater of a piano player.
For while it would be idle to pretend that this 70-year-old virtuoso, struck down at the height of his career with psoriatic arthritis, still commands the velocity and reflex of his earlier years, his later Chopin and Liszt are a tribute to a devotion and commitment gloriously enriched by experience. The First Impromptu is piquantly voiced and phrased while the C sharp minor Etude, Op. 25 No. 7, could hardly be more hauntingly confided, more ‘blue’ or inturned. How you miss the repeat in the C sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50 No. 3 (not Op. 15, as the jewel-case claims), given such cloudy introspection and if there are moments when you recall how Rubinstein – forever Chopin’s most aristocratic spokesman – can convey a world of feeling in a scarcely perceptible gesture, Janis’s brooding intensity represents a wholly personal, only occasionally overbearing, alternative; an entirely different point of view. Time and again he tells us that there are higher goods than surface polish or slickness and in the valedictory F minor Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 4 he conveys a dark night of the soul indeed, an emotion almost too desolating for public utterance… Janis is no less remarkable in Liszt, whether in the brief but intriguing Sans mesure (a first performance and recording), in a Sonetto 104 del Petrarca as tear-laden as any on record and in a final Liebestod of an exhausting ardour and focus.
No prizes for predicting that this Liszt B minor Sonata is technically flawless and beautifully structured. What may come as more of a shock (though not to those who have followed Pollini's career closely) is its sheer passion. To say that he plays as if his life depended on it is an understatement, and those who regularly accuse him of coolness should sit down in a quiet room with this recording, a decent hi-fi system and a large plateful of their own words. The opening creates a sense of coiled expectancy, without recourse to a mannered delivery such as Brendel's on Philips, and Pollini's superior fingerwork is soon evident. His virtuosity gains an extra dimension from his ability at the same time to convey resistance to it—the double octaves are demonstrably a fraction slower than usual and yet somehow feel faster, or at least more urgent. There is tensed steel in the very fabric of the playing. By the two-minute mark so much passion has been unleashed one is bound to wonder if it has not all happened too soon. But that is to underestimate Pollini's unerring grasp of the dramatic structure and its psychological progression from paragraph to paragraph; it is also to underestimate his capacity to find extra technical resources when it would seem beyond the power of flesh and blood to do so.