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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67424
Recording details: May 2003
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Release date: August 2005
Total duration: 51 minutes 39 seconds

'It's clear that Stephen Hough has technically and spiritually digested the first book of Années de pèlerinage to the extent that he can risk personalising certain pieces without sounding the least bit mannered' (Gramophone)

'Stephen Hough handles this more intimate side of Liszt admirably, with playing of great expressive warmth … as a bonus, Hough throws in Liszt's three operatic paraphrases from Gounod, playing the fine reverie after Romeo and Juliet quite beautifully, and tossing off the virtuoso transcription of the waltz from Faust with appropriate panache' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Always a fastidious pianist, Stephen Hough conjures subtle sonorities in these tender aquarelles … Hough's elegance minimises the music's vulgarity, while he is in his element in the dreamy fantasies on themes from Roméo et Juliette and the rare La Reine de Saba' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Even were Hough's technique less secure and Hyperion's engineering less realistic, this would be a major addition to the catalogue. As it stands, this recording of the first book of Années is the top choice' (International Record Review)

'Pianist Stephen Hough beautifully captures the requisite sense of Liszt's absorption in his self-created Romantic universe, as well as the heart-tugging emotions of his music … it's an exceptionally fine disc' (The Guardian)

'To play Liszt easily, you need at least three hands, but Hough, so brilliant in his recent Rachmaninov set, gets by magnificently with two … a valuable and highly enjoyable disc' (The Times)

'To be without the Hough version of the complete opera paraphrases after Gounod would be like missing the sweet afterthought, one that only a pianist like Stephen Hough can lure us into and then indulge us' (Pianist)

'Stephen Hough has once again excelled himself … the impression conveyed throughout the main work is one of immense musicianship and subtlety, in which the pianist shapes every phrase to make its point, allowing distillations of shade and nuance, a performance in which the composer is allowed to speak on his own terms without any intervening eccentricities or rhetorical extravagances' (International Piano)

Années de pèlerinage, première année – Suisse, S160

Pastorale  [1'30]
Orage  [4'50]
Vallée d'Obermann  [15'53]
Eglogue  [2'50]

Other recordings available for download
Leslie Howard (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage—Première année—Suisse (‘Years of Travel—First Year—Switzerland’) stands as one of the most important productions from his Weimar years—the years of his real coming of age as a composer of international stature. It begins, appropriately, with homage to Switzerland’s most famous legend: Chapelle de Guillaume Tell (‘William Tell’s chapel’) is a reworking of the similarly named piece in the Album, but is altogether starker in texture. The original page of introduction is replaced with three striking bars of expanding chords, which also furnish the material for the completely recomposed coda. The middle section is also entirely new, and evokes the sound of the alpenhorn, but the principal thematic material is happily retained, as is the knightly motto at the head of the score: ‘Einer für Alle—Alle für Einen’ (‘One for all, all for one’).

Lines from Byron (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage) precede Au lac de Wallenstadt (‘At the Wallenstadt Lake’):

… thy contrasted lake,
With the wild world I dwelt in, is a thing
Which warns me, with its stillness, to forsake
Earth’s troubled waters for a purer spring.

This delicate little piece is taken over almost unaltered from the earlier version.

Pastorale is a rethinking of the third of the Fleurs mélodiques des Alpes. The central episode is removed, and the springing bass of the main theme is new, whereas the boisterous leaps which originally accompanied the second theme have been much chastened. The tonality has also changed from G major to E major.

‘In säuselnder Kühle / Beginnen die Spiele / Der jungen Natur’ (‘In the whispering coolness begins young nature’s play’) writes Schiller in his poem Der Flüchtling (‘The Fugitive’), which passage is quoted by Liszt at the head of Au bord d’une source (‘By a spring’). In the earlier version, the technical hurdles almost detract from the simplicity of the intended depiction of freshly springing waters; Liszt’s new arrangement of the material, at once more subtle and presenting technical problems more charming than intractable, has rightly made this version one of his best loved works.

Byron’s Childe Harold provided Liszt with another poem to introduce Orage (‘Storm’):

But where of ye, O tempests! is the goal?
Are ye like those within the human breast?
Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?

Several commentators have rightly remarked the similarity of the defiant opening to that of the early Malédiction concerto for piano and strings. Although Liszt invented memorable musical representations of many a storm, he was never so relentless and single-minded in his work as in this fine piece, almost a study, in the best sense, and unequalled in its balanced account of grandeur and fury.

Vallée d’Obermann (‘Obermann’s Valley’) is another of Liszt’s finest works, and Liszt himself excused its inclusion in a collection of Swiss impressions by pointing out that the French novel (Senancour’s Obermann) which inspired it was set in Switzerland. The many changes between the two versions of the work (which Liszt also arranged for piano trio in his last years, adding the title Tristia to the final version) are too numerous to detail here: much of the material is similar, if the order of the form is different, but here the added rhetorical gestures pace the work better. The original two-page preface from Senancour is reduced to a dozen lines—‘Que veux-je? Que suis-je? Que demander à la nature? …’ (‘What do I want? What am I? What to ask of nature? …’), and a further nine lines from Childe Harold introduce this powerful piece:

Could I embody and unbosom now
That which is most within me,—could I wreak
My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw
Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong or weak,
All that I would have sought, and all I seek,
Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe—into one word,
And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;
But as it is, I live and die unheard,
With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword.

If the flattery of imitation were anything to go by, then Tchaikovsky certainly admired Vallée d’Obermann sufficiently when he appropriated its main theme for Lensky’s aria in Yevgeny Onegin.

Significantly, the very next stanza of Childe Harold introduces Eglogue:

The morn is up again, the dewy morn,
With breath all incense, and with cheek all bloom,
Laughing the clouds away with playful scorn,
And living as if the earth contain’d no tomb,— …

A more fresh-faced piece of Liszt would be hard to imagine, and its delicate simplicity makes a perfect foil for the previous piece. (Tchaikovsky echoes this work in his well-known Troïka, Opus 37bis/11.)

Le mal du pays (Heimweh) (‘Nostalgia / homesickness’) is a splendid example of Liszt’s ability to make a work sound like a free improvisation whilst subjecting it to quite tight control. The success of this brooding piece is all the more impressive for the varied provenance of its themes: most of the material is adapted from the second of the Fleurs mélodiques, and a further melody is taken from the Fantaisie romantique. The work is prefaced by a vast quotation from the ‘Troisième fragment’ of Senancour’s Obermann: ‘De l’expression romantique, et du ranz des vaches’ (‘on Romantic expression, and the Swiss pastoral melody employed in the calling of the cows’)—‘Le romanesque séduit les imaginations vives et fleuries; le romantique suffit seul aux âmes profondes, la véritable sensibilité …’ (‘The Romanesque attracts those of lively and florid imagination; the Romantic satisfies only profound souls, real sensitivity …’).

Liszt brings the Swiss book of his Années to a balanced conclusion with Les cloches de Genève—Nocturne (‘The Bells of Geneva’), which is based on the first part only of the much longer Les cloches de G***** of the Album d’un voyageur. For some reason, Liszt discarded the greater part of that marvellous meditation, but, in compensation, he added a second section to the revised work, introducing an inspired and uplifting melody, first quietly and then with full-blooded passion, before taking his leave with the return of the distant bells.

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996

Other albums featuring this work
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 39 – Première année de pèlerinage' (CDA67026)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 39 – Première année de pèlerinage
'Liszt: Complete Piano Music' (CDS44501/98)
Liszt: Complete Piano Music
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'Eileen Joyce – The complete Parlophone & Columbia solo recordings' (APR7502)
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'Grigory Ginzburg – His early recordings – 1' (APR5667)
Grigory Ginzburg – His early recordings – 1
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'York Bowen – The complete solo 78-rpm recordings' (APR6007)
York Bowen – The complete solo 78-rpm recordings
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 APR6007  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Liszt: Piano Music' (LISZT1)
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