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Volume 4 of New Discoveries celebrates not only a further addition to Howard’s gargantuan Liszt project (100 CDs in all) but also the pianist’s 70th birthday. The series succeeds in making you aware that Liszt’s mind was in a constant state of ferment as he re-thought and re-aligned, allowing mere slivers to expand into outsize works or, more often, to refine and clarify music he came to see as impractical.

Volume 4 is of endless value and fascination. Here, once more, you sense Liszt’s unique complexity, of how his fervent religious nature coalesced with a vein of theatricality, an alternation between the glamorous and austere. Opening with the grandest and most opulent offering on the record, Howard gives us what was to be known as Rêves et fantaisies. Over 21 minutes in length, it is a close relative of Hungarian Rhapsody No 1 but also a work in its own right. Its elaboration (a sore test for any pianist) is countered by the baleful, dark-hued musings of late Liszt, a potent and disturbing reflection of desolation, of a man engulfed in self-doubt, laughed to scorn by contemporaries for whom his prophecy amounted to little more than evidence of senility. Yet it is perhaps consoling to find in ‘the first layer of revision’ of La lugubre gondola a shaft of light in this otherwise numbing reflection on Wagner’s funeral procession (‘him today, me tomorrow’), or to experience what  Howard calls ‘the marvellous torso’ of a Rossini-Fantaisie. The programme ends on a lighter note with a march very possibly written for a band.

Howard’s endlessly informative notes combine with powerful and eloquent performances to confirm his life-long love and inspiration. Hyperion’s sound is, as always, immaculate.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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