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The idea of juxtaposing Liszt’s B minor Sonata with the composer’s late works is not new – Pollini has done this both on disc (also DG) and in recital. But it works miraculously well. Here, Aimard expands the idea by including works by other composers. As a contextualising strategy, it is impeccable; as a listening experience, it is illuminating, exciting and moving.

The first disc presents a clear journey to the B minor Sonata, beginning with the progressive, oppressive language of La lugubre gondola, which possesses an introspection that links directly with the impossibly lonely Nuages gris. The two pieces are separated by Wagner’s Piano Sonata, a rarity from 1853 that seems to reveal affinities to Lohengrin.

The Berg Sonata is expertly delineated, yet its pervading mystery is retained. If the Scriabin Ninth Sonata is almost up there with Sofronitsky (Brilliant Classics), it lacks the final ounce of abandon; yet it is fluid and confident. The same could perhaps be said of the B minor Sonata itself. The playful sparkle is truly impressive, as are the almost uncomfortably bare sonorities.

The second disc, a journey from darkness to light, is just as impressive. A superbly bleak Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este leads to some rarely heard Bartók, an unexpected but perfect extension. Liszt’s François, given a performance of rare beauty, links to Messiaen’s Le traquet stapazin (given with masterly authority). The Stroppa is a fascinating, darkly atmospheric piece. And hearing Liszt’s fountains next to Ravel’s reminds us of how prophetic Liszt could be. Aimard’s use of colour is positively painterly. The live recording (Vienna Konzerthaus) is beautiful in itself.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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