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This Signum twofer is little short of a revelation: firstly, because it shows how well – if insightfully played, as here – Wagner’s music fits the piano; secondly, because over a third of the 142-minute playing time is original Wagner, not transcription; and thirdly, for Llŷr Williams’ beautifully idiomatic playing. These discs were a near-permanent fixture in my player in the run-up to Christmas.

Around half (in number) of Wagner’s extant piano works are given here, including the last of his six sonatas, the single-span Sonata for the Book of Mrs MW (1852, written for Mathilde Wesendonck). The largest work is the Fantasy in F sharp minor (1831), throughout which one can hear the young composer coming to terms with Beethoven. Its 26 minutes strain the structure but this is a compelling listen. The other original items are trifles, written for individuals (all women, unsurprisingly!), including the flirtatious Zürich Waltzes (1854) for Mathilde’s younger sister.

Wagner’s greatest transcriber was Liszt, whose reworkings dominate the programme. They range from the delicate, charming Spinning Chorus (The Flying Dutchman) and Elsa’s Bridal Procession (Lohengrin) to the grand recomposition of Entry of the Guests (Tannhäuser, Act II), made to fit a satisfying, purely musical structure, removed from theatrical considerations.

Liebestod (Tristan und Isolde) is fairly straight, as are Williams’ own transcriptions of three episodes from Parsifal, made for this recording: 21 minutes encapsulating Williams’ complete understanding of Wagner’s music as well as his technical virtuosity. Glenn Gould’s transcriptions of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the Prelude from Die Meistersinger are also included. Signum’s sound is superb. Highly recommended.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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