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Here, gratifyingly, is a Liszt recital with a difference. Time was when Liszt’s change from exuberance to bitterness of spirit was seen as evidence of senility and, for Wagner, a decline into madness. Today, as Alfred Brendel puts it, ‘the denigration of Liszt has long since passed its peak’ and the dark-hued utterances of his final years are viewed as a vital prophecy of things to come. Near minimalism replaces a plethora of notes – the worlds of the ‘La campanella’ and ‘Feux follets’ or the early Hungarian Rhapsodies are but a distant memory.

Imogen Cooper enterprisingly sandwiches a selection of works by Wagner and Liszt between the hallucinatory flights of the second Valse oubliée and the Bagatelle sans tonalité. If in neither case is she equal to Richter’s peerless virtuosity in the former or Peter Donohoe in the latter, she is never less than dependable and musical.

A higher degree of intensity can be heard in the Wagner-Liszt Liebstod or the Liszt Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, and she makes something special of Liszt’s own arrangement of his Gretchen (the expressive centre of this disc). She also has an admirable feeling for the alternating fervour and contemplation of Sposalizio, with its near Wagnerian progressions at the close.

Finally, the first version of La lugubre Gondola and a true sense of Liszt’s final desolation (‘I am desperately and completely incapable of finding a single ray of happiness’) as he watched a procession of funeral gondolas and foresaw both Wagner’s and his own imminent death (‘him today, me tomorrow’).

Chandos’ sound is superb and Conor Farrington’s accompanying essay is a fine bonus. Cooper has dedicated her recording to the memory of the brilliant Hungarian pianist Zoltán Kocsis, and who died in 2016.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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