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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67445
Recording details: December 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: January 2004
Total duration: 83 minutes 18 seconds

'This is a fine recital, with a recording to match' (BBC Music Magazine)

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S173
composer
No 2: 1840; remainder 1845 to 1852; first published in this final form in 1853

Invocation  [7'27]
Ave Maria  [5'57]
Pensée des morts  [13'47]
Pater noster  [2'35]
Funérailles  [12'00]
Cantique d'amour  [6'07]

Other recordings available for download
Leslie Howard (piano)
Introduction
The collection of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses divides broadly into two types of work: a simple style deriving from a choral original, and large-scale romantic poems of abundant inspiration. Critics have been rather unkind about the success of the mixture as a whole, but the very incongruity is an essential aspect of Liszt’s character, and the lesser pieces are certainly helped by being heard in context. As well as the Ave Maria, the Pater noster and the Hymne de l’Enfant were original choral pieces by Liszt. The Miserere was noted down by Liszt as a work of Palestrina which he heard performed in the Sistine Chapel. However, Palestrina has absolutely nothing to do with the odd melody of the motet which Liszt has collected and elaborated with tremolo and arpeggio variations. Another choral sketch is the basis for the second part of Pensée des morts. This piece is the reworking of the first part of the earlier Harmonies poétiques along with material from a sketched setting of the psalm ‘De profundis’, whose musical make-up is very similar to that of a long almost-complete work for piano and orchestra of the same title from 1834–5.

Several of the pieces are prefaced by stanzas from Lamartine’s poems, whence some of the titles derive. The Invocation is at once a prayer and a triumphant cry of faith, and, like many of Liszt’s works of this kind, is cast in E major.

Bénédiction de Dieu is the largest and finest piece of the set, and the added-sixth harmonies in F sharp major look forward to the religiously inspired music of Messiaen. The central Andante is perfect in its simplicity and reserve, and another delicate theme—sostenuto—precedes the return of the main material. Both secondary themes return in the gentle coda. Funérailles is subtitled ‘October 1849’. Many silly suggestions have been put about as to its inspiration—none less accurate than the notion that the piece is in memory of Chopin and that the tremendous galloping left-hand octaves in the middle section derive from Chopin’s A flat Polonaise. Many of Liszt’s acquaintances died in the mass execution at the hands of the Austrian court of Hungarian prime minister Batthyany and sixteen of his officers on 6 October 1849, in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848–9 revolution in Hungary. Although the ninth piece in the set is known only by its tempo direction, the poem which inspired it is entitled ‘Une larme ou consolation’, and that sets the tone for this inexplicably neglected piece, very tightly constructed, whose greatness is perhaps occluded by its sheer delicacy. Cantique d’amour returns to the tonality and warmth of the Invocation, but on a more intimate footing—an effort, perhaps, to ally love of God to human affection.

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1990


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