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Liszt’s transcriptions for the piano of choral and orchestral works by other composers are well known and have been recorded often – I first heard some as part of Leslie Howard’s monumental series on Hyperion, and Cyprien Katsaris’ set of Beethoven’s symphonies is a treasured possession of mine – but recordings on historical keyboards are as rare as hen’s teeth, which makes this new recording by the Belgian Els Biesemans particularly welcome. The instrument is an 1835 model by Aloys Biber, and the recorded sound shows it off to its best; were the performances themselves only run-of-the-mill, this disc would still be worth a listen.

However, Biesemans plays superbly in these arrangements of 25 songs, showing us the truth in a contemporary comment on Liszt, that ‘No singer can sing the way Liszt sings on the piano’: these are not merely literal transcriptions of the original vocal line and piano part, but inventive, even subversive, reimaginings of the source material. Twelve songs from Schubert’s Winterreise form the bulk of the disc, along with sets of pieces originally by Chopin and Mendelssohn; single songs by Schubert and Liszt himself bookend the disc. While the use of period pianos in 19th-century music is becoming more and more prevalent, I’d say that this disc is far and away the most thrilling recording of one that I’ve heard in a long while.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica


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