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This Naxos issue (Volume 45 of their ongoing Liszt Complete Piano Music series) of the 12 Grandes études provides some illuminating insights. Liszt may have been a tirelessly fleet and productive composer, but he was no less tireless a reviser. The advance from the early prototype for the études is startling. Here in the second 1837 version, the rudimentary, Czerny-esque patterning of 1826 gives way to a massive Himalayan epic prompting Schumann’s reservations concerning études of ‘storm and dread.’

Forever the pragmatist as well as transcendental virtuoso, Liszt quickly realised the limitation of writing studies beyond the means of virtually any other pianist than himself, so that his final 1851 version clarifies and refines writing of an overwrought complexity. The general thinning of texture creates an altogether sharper glitter and focus (paradoxically the result is more rather than less brilliant), and this is the version preferred by virtually every Liszt champion – most notably Lazar Berman, György Cziffra and Daniil Trifonov.

In the 1837 version, Étude No 4 (later ‘Mazeppa’) commences in medias res, without its later storming introduction, whereas No 12 appears with a recitative-like opening later omitted in ‘Chasse-neige’. Elsewhere the lavishly ornamented central sections of No 8 (later ‘Wilde Jagd’) and No 11 (later ‘Harmonies du soir’) are replaced by more contained writing, showing that economy as well as brevity is the soul of wit.

Wenbin Jin is a hard-working champion of his cause and even though his performances hardly spark with Berman’s massive aplomb or Cziffra’s thrilling if eccentric fire, he is a more than capable advocate, finely recorded.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing