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CLASSICAL  March 2009

CLASSICAL March 2009

Subject:

Liszt on the Steppes

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 31 Mar 2009 17:01:41 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (100 lines)

[Read online at: http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/h/hyp66984a.php]

Franz Liszt
Arabesques

*  2 Melodies russes - Arabesques
*  Autrefois - Romance (Wielhorsky)
*  Tarentelle (Dargomizhsky)
*  Galop russe (Bulhakov)
*  Mazurka
*  Prelude a la Polka de Borodine
*  Alexander Borodin: Polka
*  Tarentelle (Cui)
*  Rakoczi-Marsch
*  Virag dal (Abranyi)
*  Spanisches Staendchen (Festetics)
*  Valse d'Adele (Zichy)
*  Revive Szegedin! (Szabadi/Massenet)
*  Valse de concert (Vegh)
*  Bevezetes es agyar indulo (Szechenyi)

Leslie Howard, piano
Philip Moore, piano secundo
Hyperion CDA66984 Total Time: 79:12

Summary for the Busy Executive: Play, gypsies, play!

Volume 35 of Leslie Howard's (not *that* Leslie Howard) plow-through of
the complete piano music of Liszt emphasizes Liszt the touring virtuoso
and international music superstar.  Liszt travelled extensively throughout
Europe, even reaching into Russia.  Russian composers were crazy about
his music anyway, and he in turn became excited over what the new Russians
(Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Tchaikovsky, and the kuchka) were turning out.
The Russians, while rejecting Liszt's harmonic habits, nevertheless found
in him a soul-mate with regard to form.  For his part, Liszt loved their
distinctively new melodies and harmonies.

Liszt met many of the outstanding Russian composers in St. Petersburg
and became especially close to Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. The latter
got up two unusual projects. During a musical evening, Rimsky's young
daughter complained that they didn't write tunes people wanted to hear.
Rimsky then asked her to give an example. The little girl went to the
piano and began to play "Tati-Tati," the Russian equivalent of "Chopsticks."
This gave Rimsky the idea for a group project: the composers Cui, Liadov,
and Rimsky would each write a couple of variations on "Tati-Tati" for
two pianos - the first part consisting of "Tati-Tati" in the treble
(presumably played by Rimsky's daughter), and the second part a more
complicated layer comprising the variation. They sent this off to Liszt
who responded enthusiastically.  Encouraged, they conceived of an even
more elaborate project on the same scheme. This time Cui, Rimsky, Liadov,
Borodin, and a composer named Stcherbatcheff contributed more elaborate
variations, and Liszt provided a "prelude" to the entire collection,
also based on "Tati-Tati," as well as at least one interlude. The CD
gives us his prelude to Borodin's polka on "Tati-Tati," as well as the
polka itself.

The rest of the disc is given over to transcriptions of Russian and
Hungarian songs, dances, and even orchestral works.  Liszt on his tours
had an immense need for new repertoire, especially repertoire geared to
the places he played.  In Italy, he would play paraphrases on Italian
opera; in Vienna or Hungary, he would give popular Hungarian tunes his
super-glam treatment.  This is sort of the equivalent of the vaudevillian's
"It's great to be here in Sandusky!" Beyond that, however, he undertook
many of his transcriptions with the idea of missionary work, spreading
new music to all corners of Europe before the age of recording.

Most of the music is pleasant, with the best examples Borodin's Polka
and Cui's Tarentelle, as you might have suspected.  Liszt's version (one
of many) of the Rakoczi March, however, raises the roof and stirs the
blood, as do Revive Szegedin!  and Bevezetes es Magyar Indulo ("introduction
and Hungarian march").  Szeged, famous for its paprika and other spices,
was destroyed by a flood.  Szabadi wrote a patriotic piece which Massenet
orchestrated for a relief concert in Paris.  Liszt transcribed the
Massenet version.  The Introduction and Hungarian March amounts almost
to a recomposition.  Howard compares it to the late Hungarian Rhapsodies,
and I agree. The march especially digs deeper than most of the other
stuff here.

If you're in the mood for, say, Liszt's b-minor Ballade, this program
(except possibly the Introduction and Hungarian March) won't satisfy
you.  The program is designed, however, to give you an enjoyable time.

Leslie Howard has reached God knows how many volumes (fifty-seven,
I think) of Liszt's piano music, seizing the opportunity to do it all.
You'd think by now he'd have scraped the barrel's bottom, but Hyperion
(and probably Howard) has packaged these CDs so cunningly, that there's
always something worth listening to.  Besides, Liszt is an incontestably
interesting musical mind, even with less-than-interesting base materials,
and the virtuosic element alone furnishes a great deal of fun.  Howard
has established himself as one of Liszt's great advocates.  He brings
not only the requisite technique but a warm lyricism, all too often
missing from pianists' attempts just to get the notes.

Steve Schwartz

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