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Young talent does not come more remarkable than this. Kit Armstrong, a British-Taiwanese protégé of Alfred Brendel (he is ‘the greatest talent I have ever encountered’) is already at 24 a pianist of an astonishing command and originality. His scholarly replies to some banal questions in an enclosed interview (‘why Liszt?) tell of his special love for Liszt’s orchestral works, songs and oratorios, giving us a clue to the quasi-orchestral, quasi-vocal range of his performances. Focusing on the darker side of Liszt’s genius, his retreat from former virtuoso glory into an often violent and bitter introspection (‘grey with the pain of disillusion;’ George Steiner) he properly, and for once, prefaces the first Mephisto Waltz with the ‘Midnight Procession’ from Lenau’s Faust creating a tone poem far remote from a more familiar bludgeoning brilliance. His use of several ossias (Liszt’s own alternatives) make imaginative musical sense, with a sense of elemental uproar that is entirely musically motivated. In such hands the Second Mephisto Waltz is all desperation rather than playful diablerie; and, taking the third Mephisto Waltz more by stealth than storm, Armstrong conveys a truly menacing sense of its oddly disjointed modernist poetry. Liszt’s own arrangements of the ‘Funeral March’ from Tasso and his ‘Salve Polonia’ from Saint Stanislaus complete an extraordinary recital finely recorded.

More generally but emphatically, this is among the most powerful Liszt programmes both in content and performance to have come my way for many years. It is hard to imagine a more eloquent and deeply felt riposte to those who still see Liszt as less a visionary (one who ‘hurled his lance far into the future’) and more a composer of surplus rhetoric and bravura. All this from a 24-year-old pianist clearly at the start of what will surely be a dazzling international career.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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