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Jerome Rose’s three-CD reissue of Liszt recordings dating from 1974-86 is a 40th anniversary collection with several first performances on CD, as well as winners of Hungary’s Grand Prix du Disque. The repertoire is richly comprehensive taking in the familiar and less familiar, early and late works – a powerful overview of Liszt’s massive scope and genius. Thereafter, however, praise becomes heavily qualified.

On the credit side, the six Grandes Études de Paganini are given with a suitably swashbuckling bravura. Fearless and big-handed, this is no-holds-barred Liszt. ‘La Campanella’ (No 3) is reeled off with a steely glint and unfaltering assurance, while muscles bulge and ripple in the final pages of No 6. Yet in the three Études de concert there is little suggestion of their subtitle, ‘Trois caprices poétiques’. Masterly to the point of aggression, you will hear nothing of, say, Moiseiwitsch’s matchless dexterity in ‘La Leggierezza’ or Géza Anda’s iridescent dream-world in ‘Un sospiro’. The opening of ‘Waldesrauschen’ (the first of the other set of two concert studies) is rushed and flustered, and in the ‘Valse mélancolique’, Rose is hardly the most elegant of white-tie-and-tails dancers.

Clearly, the outsized appeals more than the small gesture. For instance, in the four Mephisto Walzes Rose shows a shameless disregard for anything beyond display. The blast-off opening to No 2 is brutally limiting and in No 1, the 24-year-old Kit Armstrong’s recent recording for Sony tells of another level of musicianship. In the tranquil resolution of the ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude’ and parts of the six Consolations there is greater inwardness, even when it shows up the obviousness of Rose’s playing elsewhere, where sound and fury signify too little. Liszt does not need dynamite to extract his musical essence.

Memorable alternatives to most of this repertoire come from Kempff (his early Decca recording of the Deux légendes), Curzon in the Berceuse, Brendel in the ‘Bénédiction’ and Edith Farnadi in the four Valses oubliées (to be reissued shortly). Andsnes, too, is far preferable in the Mephisto Waltzes, even when he omits No 3, an audacious example of Liszt at his most disjunct and far-reaching.

The recorded sound is brilliant but limited, with a raw edge. There are no accompanying notes about either pianist or composer.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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