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Hyperion Records

CKD282 - Liszt: Sonata & Grandes Études

Recording details: May 2006
Snape Maltings, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: July 2008
Total duration: 57 minutes 27 seconds

'His performance of the B minor Sonata, one of the great milestones of keyboard literature, is of such drama, power and concentration that it holds its own even when you stop to consider tirelessly celebrated recordings by Horowitz (his early 1932 version), Argerich, Brendel and Zimerman … this is hardly the playing of a novice or a performance of mere potential, it is already one of formidable eloquence and achievement, and it has been finely recorded and presented' (Gramophone) » More

'I had previously encountered the Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis through his all-Schumann disc for Somm, but as promising as that disc was it didn't prepare me for the sheer quality of this Liszt recording. Lazaridis gives a supremely authoritative reading of the B minor Sonata, which is not only intensely committed but also deeply imaginative. His virtuoso credentials are impeccable, and are matched by the focus and suppleness of his lyrical playing … Lazaridis is equally commanding in the Paganini Studies, where even at its most taxing the music unfolds with an unruffled sense of control and inevitability … at its best this account rivals equally fine recordings from the urbane Hamelin and the outstanding Cecile Ousset. Warmly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'Throughout Liszt's epic Sonata in B minor, poetic musings of exquisite refinement rub shoulders with uncontainable outbursts of glittering bravura, making it one of the biggest challenges for the aspiring virtuoso pianist. It's the Sonata's neurotic changeability that is so compellingly brought to life by Lazaridis. As each mesmerising episode unfolds, the listener is compelled along by the sheer force of Lazaridis's artistic personality. Even the notorious fugal episode is made to sound like the inevitable outcome of what has gone before. Add to that a technique to die for, cushioned by melt-in-the-mouth sonorities and a scintillating coupling, and you have a Liszt release made in heaven' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Le premier disque, consacré a Schumann, de George-Emmanuel Lazaridis nous avait échappé, mais on ne laissera pas passer cette seconde chance de saluer le talent de ce jeune homme. C'est bien en compositeur—qu'il est par ailleurs—que le pianiste grec aborde la sonate de Liszt, avec un sens de la construction, des proportions, de la mesure, des enchaînements, et une puissance d'analyse qui laissent admiratif. Généreuse de sonorité, d'une grandeur imperturbable, discrètement personnelle dans certains détails, probe et libre à la fois, cette Sonata-la respire l'équilibre et la maturité; on aurait simplement aimé pouvoir l'écouter autrement qu'en une seule plage de 33'38"! Les Etudes de Paganini restent, comme souvant, une impeccable course d'obstacles; la pointe d'émotion et d'individualité que George-Emmanuel Lazaridis y fait furtivement passer semble une prouesse dans la prouesse, et doit être saluée comme une grande réussite' (Diapason, France)

Sonata & Grandes Études

Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis' superb debut release for Linn Records features two of the most famous works in the solo piano repertoire, both performed in breathtaking style.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
As musical phenomena go, few have come close to equalling the impact left by the Italian violin virtuoso and composer Nicolň Paganini (1782-1840). His pan-European celebrity may have lasted only a decade, but no-one who experienced his pyrotechnical wizardry, emotional intensity and charismatic stage presence was left unroused. Writing to her brother Felix shortly after attending Paganini’s Berlin debut in 1829, Fanny Mendelssohn commented that ‘through Paganini the art of violin playing has undergone a drastic change’. Likewise, his first appearances in Paris during March 1831 created a sensation. Thirteen months later, he returned to give another series of concerts, one of which was a benefit concert at the Opéra for the victims of the cholera epidemic which was then rampaging through the French capital. In the audience sat the 20-year-old Franz Liszt, himself the toast of Paris some eight years previously. Arriving fresh from Vienna (where he had studied with Carl Czerny), the 12-year-old prodigy had quickly become the darling of the city’s social elite and his hugely successful public debut there earned him the soubriquet of ‘le petit Litz’ (the French, it seems, never could get the hang of his name!). Inspired by Paganini’s jaw-dropping feats of virtuosity and comprehensive mastery and understanding of his chosen instrument (‘What a man, what a violinist, what an artist!’), the undaunted and ambitious Liszt promptly set himself the challenge of effectively redefining the technical boundaries and expressive potential of the piano in the same way that Paganini had done for the violin. ‘For this fortnight,’ he confided to his friend, Pierre Wolff, ‘my mind and fingers have worked like two damned ones. Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all about me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them furiously. In addition, I practise exercises for four or five hours (thirds, sixths, octaves, tremolos, repeated notes, cadenzas, etc.) Ah, provided I don’t go mad, you will find an artist in me.’

Later that same year, Liszt’s concentrated efforts bore fruit with the staggeringly demanding Grande Fantaisie de bravoure sur La Clochette de Paganini (alias the rondo finale of the Italian’s Second Violin Concerto), the forerunner of indestructible Campanella study which eventually found a home in the Six Grandes Études de Paganini recorded here. Completed in 1838 and overhauled 13 years later, all but one of the pieces (No 3) are transcriptions of the 24 Caprices for solo violin (Paganini’s Op 1, written between 1800 and 1810 but not published until 1820). In point of fact, the first of Liszt’s studies incorporates two caprices, arpeggiated and scalic flourishes from No 5 bookending its tremolo-accompanied G minor main melody from No 6. Next Liszt turns to the Caprice No 17 to produce a deliciously deft and glittering exercise in scales and double octaves, whose playful E flat major outer portions frame a more agitated C minor episode. This is followed by the famous La Campanella, a dazzling test of touch, agility and dynamics which has long since entered the repertoire of any self-respecting virtuoso. Notated on a single stave, No 4 in E major faithfully imitates the spiccato arpeggios of Paganini’s opening caprice. No 5 shares its nickname of La Chasse with the Ninth Caprice and comprises a charming ‘hunting piece’ complete with flute and horn calls which originally showed off Paganini’s mastery of double-stops in harmonics. Last comes Liszt’s transcription of the instantly familiar Caprice No 24 in A minor, a miniature theme and variations on a buoyant tune that has, of course, similarly taken the fancy of figures as varied as Brahms, Rachmaninov, Blacher, Lutoslawski and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Liszt’s towering Piano Sonata in B minor was completed on 2 February 1853, nearly five years into his hugely productive 13-year sojourn in Weimar (during which time he also penned his Faust and Dante symphonies, Années de pčlerinage and Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, two piano concertos and all but the last of his 13 symphonic poems). Although published in 1854, the sonata had to wait until January 1857 for its public premičre in Berlin where it was played by Liszt’s pupil Hans von Bülow at a concert to inaugurate the first Bechstein grand piano. Arguably the composer’s masterpiece and generally considered the finest piano sonata to have been written since Beethoven and Schubert, its startling originality and daring intellectual and emotional scope well and truly broke the mould. Writing to the composer, Wagner declared Liszt’s creation ‘beautiful beyond all conception: great, lovely, deep and noble – sublime, as you are’, whereas Clara Schumann thought it ‘gruesome’ and Brahms described it as ‘just empty noise’.

Such divergence of opinion is understandable. No-one before had attempted a sonata in one continuous movement, an extraordinarily ambitious half-hour structure that combines elements of traditional sonata form with its own riveting sense of internal logic and organic growth. Indeed, the very first page contains three striking ‘motto’ ideas that sow the seeds for nearly all that follows. First comes a descending scale marked sotto voce – full of ominous undertow, it is destined to reappear at crucial points in the work’s structure; next a jagged, forceful theme on octaves, quickly pursued by a menacing marcato idea in the left hand. A thrilling dialogue ensues, capped by the appearance of the gloriously noble Grandioso second subject in D major. Shortly afterwards, listen out for Liszt’s masterly transformation of the left-hand theme into a lyrical melody of exquisite loveliness. At the sonata’s heart comes a more contemplative episode: boasting a bewitching new idea in F sharp major (marked andante sostenuto), it rises to an ecstatically charged fff peak. The final recapitulatory section is launched by a driving fugato of memorable contrapuntal resource which leads to the compressed return of the opening material. Straining every intellectual sinew and exploiting to the full the pianist’s technical armoury, Liszt builds the music to one last titanic climax. A dramatic silence ushers in the twilit epilogue: the andante sostenuto melody reappears to ineffably serene and illimitably touching effect and the curtain comes down on this compositional tour de force.

Andrew Achenbach © 2006

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