Harmonies du Soir
Int. Release 04 Apr. 2011
1 CD / Download
Marking the Bicentenary of the Birth of Liszt − Nelson Freire Pays Tribute to the Great Pianist-Composer
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
2 Etudes de Concert, S.145
Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième année: Italie, S.161
Années de pèlerinage: Première année: Suisse, S.160
6 Consolations, S.172
. . . for sheer pianistic accomplishment and musical finesse, Freire's Liszt recital is unlikely to be bettered during this anniversary year . . . a wonderful corrective to those who think of this composer's piano music as all flamboyant gestures and rhetoric. The overwhelming impact of this disc stems from the sheer beauty and elegance of Freire's playing, his crystalline tone and infinitely subtle range of touch and colour, which are combined with all the technique needed to cope with whatever challenges these pieces present him . . . Even a blowsy work like the B minor Ballade remains wonderfully controlled here, while the third of the Hungarian Rhapsodies is treated as a study in colour and pacing. Finest of all is the piece that gives the disc its title, "Harmonies du Soir" . . . it's sumptuous in its tonal palette, and ravishing in its delicacy and refinement.
The performances are noteworthy, eschewing the usual gloss in favor of genuine emotional and even physical struggles. Freire is a masterful interpreter . . .
This is immensely distinguished Liszt-playing . . . Freire seems utterly at one with the music, not only in terms of its innate poetry but also its astonishing diversity of texture and touch . . . But the special quality of Freire's playing is really that he seems to put you directly in contact with Liszt himself, without the performer's technique or personality standing in the way, which is very rare . . . Altogether an immaculate disc, enhanced by an excellently balanced recording.
To play Liszt one must possess an almost superhuman technique, an acute sense of detail, a large and varied palette of colors, and stamina galore to manage through the especially thorny passages found in many of the composer's compositions, never losing sight of the fantastical elements inherent in much of this music. Nelson Freire brings all of these qualities to the table . . . It is always a pleasure to listen to Liszt's music when someone with such a profound ability to play the notes and shape the lines fluently tackles this music and make it sound as easy as he does here. It is not just the technically difficult works here that astonish, however . . . Much of this program then is about subtlety and the way in which Freire is able to let the music speak for itself . . . [Valse oubliée]: In less than three minutes Freire is able to draw one's attention, bring one in, and keep one there. For me, his shaping of lines throughout is a high point. The way that the beautiful little melody pops out over the cushion of sound that he creates in the Ballade no. 2 . . . is palpable in effect; one's heart melts. His ability to alter timbre -- just witness the cimbalom effect he creates in the "Hungarian Rhapsody" -- is astonishing in its re-creation of the exact sound of the other instrument . . . his engagement with the music always ensures that the meaning behind the compositions is the first thing on his mind -- something that the listener is sure to hear in his playing. If Liszt is your composer, you should not be without this important disc.
. . . besides working some coloristic magic, his playing stands apart because of a spiritual stillness at the core that elevates and ennobles the music's surface.
In Mr. Freire's rich, majestic performances, Liszt's fireworks are always means to an expressive end. The album is anchored by a perfectly proportioned B minor Ballade and a flexible, capacious "Harmonies du Soir" (for which the disc is titled), but the highlight is an exquisite account of the six "Consolations".
For eloquence, turn to the Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire's new Liszt disc, "Harmonies du Soir."
. . . this tribute disc stood out for its pianistic wisdom, refinement of touch, and pure sensual beauty.
. . . charming . . . [Liszt's noises of the forest are idealised, beautiful figurations] certainly under Nelson Freire's fingers, anyway.
Mit seinem neuen, sehr persönlichen Album hat Nelson Freire . . . einen ganz besonderen Akzent des Intimen und Kontemplativen gesetzt, und so unsere Aufmerksamkeit einmal auf den musikalischen Kern, die tief romantische, humane Botschaft von Liszts Musik gelenkt . . . Freire spielt mit großer pianistischer Souveränität und der Überzeugungskraft des unvoreingenommenen Herzensmusikers, straft das ganze alte Arsenal von Liszt-Klischees und bekannten Vorurteilen Lügen und öffnet uns die Türen zu den Schönheiten, dem inneren Reichtum, der menschlichen und künstlerischen Größe dieser Musik . . . auf einem derart reflektierten (bis in die Tonartenbeziehungen ausgeklügelten) Niveau und so konzentriert und charismatisch umgesetzt erreicht Freires Liszt-Auswahl sogar eigene "nachschöpferische" Qualität: Interpretation hat eben auch sehr viel mit musikalischer Intelligenz zu tun.
. . . [das Programm ist] wie gemacht für Nelson Freire, der stets als empfindsamer, gefühlvoller Interpret glänzt. So duftig und zart wie er Chopin spielt, präsentiert er auch Liszt. Sein sensibler Anschlag lässt die teilweise sehr kurzen Kompositionen seelenvoll singen. Schon das zu Beginn der CD erklingende "Waldesrauschen" ist kein mächtiges Tosen, sondern ein exquisites Flirren -- bis hin zu einem wirbelnden Brausen. Insgesamt dominieren duftige Zwischentöne, die in einem kultivierten Piano mit wohldosiertem Pedaleinsatz zum Klingen kommen. Freire steigert die Dynamik sehr behutsam, so dass er zur Mitte des Stücks in einem kontrollierten Forte den höchsten Punkt der Spannungskurve erreicht. Eine ähnlich einfühlsame Naturschilderung gelingt ihm auch mit "Au lac de Wallenstadt", dem er mit Hilfe sanft kreisender Akkordbrechungen in der linken Hand eine leicht gekräuselte Wellenfläche zaubert . . . Wie glitzernde Tautropfen perlen hier die hohen Oktaven über einen verhangen klingenden tiefen Satz . . . ["Six Consolations"]: Ihr verspielter, romantischer Duktus wirkt wunderbar beseelt und innig. Besonders die letzte "Consolation" wartet mit einem unübertroffen sanglichen Finale auf. Freires Liszt-Interpretationen sind insgesamt von großer Poesie und Klangvielfalt. Die CD lohnt sich deshalb auch besonders für jene Hörer, die Liszt bisher mit gemischten Gefühlen gegenüber standen und Virtuosität plakativ herausstellenden Interpretationen gestört haben. Hier lernen sie eine völlig andere Seite des großen Komponisten kennen, die sie sicherlich überraschen wird. Freires kluges, sensibles Spiel ist dafür ein Garant.
Er spielt einige der exzessivsten Werke Liszt mit beharrlicher Ernsthaftigkeit und Zurückhaltung, und man darf ihm dafür dankbar sein. Mit großer technisch-musikalischer Souveränität lässt er einfach das aufblühen, was dieses Klavier-Oeuvre als reine Musik so interessant macht . . . [das] zeigt einmal mehr, was für ein großer Interpret Freire ist. Die CD ist sicherlich einer der Höhepunkte in der nicht geringen Zahl von Veröffentlichungen zum Liszt-Jahr.
. . . vielleicht die beste [Liszt-CD], die 2011 erschienen ist . . . Eleganz und Virtuosität, Herz und Brillanz, diese Gegensatzpaare bringt Freire in überragenden Darstellungen von bekannten, aber auch beim Ausleuchten weniger bekannter Liszt-Stücke zum Klingen. Mit dieser CD bekommt man ganz viel und vor allem nachhaltigen Liszt.
L'ambitus dynamique est spectaculaire, les contrastes saisissants, les mélodies déroulées avec gourmandise.
Franz Liszt – Piano Music
2010 saw the centenary of both Schumann’s and Chopin’s birth. In 2011 we pay tribute to their great co-Romantic Franz Liszt. Liszt’s reputation has fluctuated wildly (unlike that of his two contemporaries), and it is only in relatively recent times that his true stature has been fully realised. Though he was possibly the greatest, and certainly the most charismatic of pianists, his compositions embraced many areas of music. But if his symphonic poems, Masses, oratorios and songs are often musically revolutionary, his piano music takes precedence both for its quantity and its quality. This ranges from music once considered unplayable – time was when audiences came to see whether Liszt had more than ten fingers – to works of a dark-hued austerity. One has only to compare “La campanella” (from the Paganini Études) with the “Angelus” (from the third book of the Années de pèlerinage) to become aware of the extent of the composer’s journey. Both pieces evoke bells, but there the similarity ends. True, Liszt’s prodigious gifts and his early flaunting of his Bird of Paradise feathers caused unease and contempt in many quarters. For Clara Schumann he showed “too much of the tinsel and the drum”, while Mendelssohn was enraged by Liszt’s easy familiarity with his music, to which he added sundry ornaments and elaborations of his own. Chopin, too, although he never lived to hear Liszt’s truest masterpieces, saw him as an outsized charlatan (“I still say that he is a clever craftsman without a vestige of talent”).
Today the situation could hardly be more different and, as Nelson Freire’s wide-ranging programme shows, Liszt was a true master of an ever-varying style and achievement. The B minor Ballade gives us Liszt at his most opulent and rhetorical and has been aptly characterised as “concerned less with personal suffering than with great happenings on the epic scale … tragedies of public more than private import”. Most notable after the storming eloquence of the principal theme’s last appearance (a clear inspiration for the very Lisztian cadenza of Grieg’s Piano Concerto) is the Ballade’s serene close, a subtle alteration to the original and bombastic conclusion.
The Nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies form Liszt’s tribute to the land of his birth with their contrasting lassú (slow) and friss (fast) sections (though he spoke Hungarian only in his music). They have been decried as paste rather than diamonds and are of mixed gypsy rather than genuine Magyar origin, but their freshness and vitality remain uncompromised. For this recording Nelson Freire has avoided the most popular of the Rhapsodies (nos. 2, 6, 12 and 15) and chosen no. 3, one of the least-played.
With the Valse oubliée (the first and most popular of four), Nelson Freire gives us a single excursion into Liszt’s late manner and music of an elusive, bitter-sweet nostalgia expressed with a novel economy. Returning to Liszt’s earlier, more picturesque brilliance, Waldesrauschen, the first of two concert études dating from 1862–63, may lack the ambivalent tonality of the Valse oubliée which was to make of Liszt a prophet of the twentieth century, but its luminous, shimmering texture already points the way to works such as “Ondine” from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.
The three Petrarch Sonnets form the expressive centre of the Années de pèlerinage Book 2, Italy. And just as Book 1 records the sights and sounds of Switzerland’s alpine magnificence, so the second and third books show themselves no less susceptible to the art and literature of Italy. Liszt’s vocal settings of Petrarch were composed in 1838, and their transformations into some of the most ardent and luxuriant piano pieces were published between 1847 and 1858. The composer’s chameleon-like ability to change and, indeed, transfigure his own and other people’s work is hauntingly evident in the three ultra-Romantic idealisations of a fourteenth-century poet. Sonnet no.104, the most familiar of the three, remembers unrequited passion.
“Au lac de Wallenstadt” (no. 2 from the first of the Années de pèlerinage, Switzerland) is prefaced by some lines by Byron: “thy contrasted lake / With the wild world I dwell in, is a thing / Which warns me with its stillness to forsake / Earth’s troubled waters for a purer spring”. Marie d’Agoult, Liszt’s mistress of the moment, could hear “a melancholy harmony, imitative of the sigh of waves and the cadence of oars”.
Liszt’s six Consolations, which were completed in 1850, take their title from poems by Sainte-Beuve dedicated to Victor Hugo. Sometimes considered “consolations” for those unable to cope with Liszt’s more difficult pages, they are nonetheless demanding in other, more lyrical and serene ways. The first is wistfully and gently wayward, and its deceptive modulations could easily have developed into an earlier and more customary grandeur. The second is a classic instance in miniature of Liszt’s elaboration rather than development of an essentially simple “vocal” idea. Like the second, the third Consolation is very much for those who delight in Liszt’s most tactful poetry; one of his many unofficial tributes to Chopin, this meditation on the opening of the D flat Nocturne, op. 27 no. 2 is understandably among Liszt’s most popular compositions. The hymnal piety of the fourth is not without fervour, and the urbane charm of the fifth is finely countered by the sixth, music of greater boldness, enlivened by terms such as “vibrato” and “appassionato”.
Finally, “Harmonies du soir” is the eleventh and most opulent of Liszt’s formidably entitled Études d’exécution transcendante. These were composed in three versions, the first a rudimentary flexing of muscles, the second of self-defeating difficulty, and the third a clarifying and refining of its predecessors. “Harmonies du soir”, as its title declares, is a study in impressionism and many of its massive chord sequences are a prophecy of things to come. Messiaen may have made little mention of Liszt, but the influence is unmistakable.
Nelson Freire’s qualities have been admirably summarised by Ivan Davis, the brilliant American virtuoso. For him Freire is “natural (both in pianism and musical honesty), provocative (why didn’t I think of that?) and inevitable (a totality of technique and temperament)”. On a personal note, a friend challenged me some years ago to identify the pianist on a much-loved recording. What I heard was a flawless fusion of gifts: freedom and elasticity, a wholly personal, yet never obtrusive rubato, and a seductive magic which was hard to place but haunting and immaculate. I hazarded some guesses before settling for Nelson Freire. It was indeed Freire, and that recording, taken from a live recital at the Gusman Cultural Center in Miami, remains a priceless collector’s item.
Photos: © Eric Dahan