LISZT: Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses Nos. 1-6 / Les Morts (Philip Thomson/ Victor and Marina Ledin) (Naxos: 8.553073)
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Franz Liszt was born into a Catholic Church background, and this month we have a Naxos disc of the Sacred Choral Music, just to remind us if his considerable output for the church.
He had at times in his life an idea of taking holy orders, yet it seems as if the devil was equally after his soul, Liszt usually succumbing to the pleasures of the flesh, and even in his music there is a diabolical nature which often takes him more near to hell than heaven.
Yet his life was equally punctuated with good deeds, and there are many composers who found his financial support took them through difficult periods. Therefore we can accept his basic faith which created such works as the Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses. It was an expression of his deep rooted belief, and is in ten sections.
He began work on the score in 1846 and it was completed in 1852, the title taken from a group of poems by Alphonse de Lamartine. Each section has a religious title and are of substantial length, Liszt juxtaposing tempi to ensure variation between sections.
This disc carries the first six sections, the remaining four are on 8.553516, the complete work being too long for one CD. This disc is completed by three works of sombre nature. Les Mortes (The Dead) was written in 1860 to a poem by Lamennais, on the death of his young son. The score was first scored for orchestra, and later appeared in many versions including this one for two hands.
Resignazione is a fragment penned on the back page of an organ work, Salve regina. Whether it was written for piano or organ, is rather immaterial, as it is a shaving off the master's workbench.
Ungarns Gott, on a religious text by the Hungarian poet Sandor Petöfi, equally appeared in many guises, and we will hear other versions later in this complete Liszt series.
This third volume is played by the Canadian, Philip Thomson. He was the winner of the Liszt Concerto Competition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and has since played with all the Canadian orchestras, with recital tours that have taken him around the world.
This is the third volume in the Complete Piano Music of Franz Liszt to be issued on Naxos, the first volume already chosen as one of ten best discs of the month by the editor of The Gramophone magazine.
To have this series available on budget price has already captured the attention of record buyers around the world. There is one version the Harmonies that is squeezed onto one disc. It must be a very fast performance! Other than that we have just the expensive Hyperion, which like the Naxos is spread over two discs with fillers, but both of those are at full price. Other than that there is no CD on general release world-wide. So it is a virgin market at the low Naxos price.
The recording was made in California in July 1994, July 1995 and September 1995. As with the first volume, the notes are written by Victor and Marina Ledin and are almost worth the price of the disc, and extend to 14 pages.