Movement 1: Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro – Trio – Scherzo da capo
Movement 4: Allegro molto
Just as Beethoven’s introduction marks a colossal advance upon that of the First Symphony, so Liszt’s transcription responds with wonderful imagination and dexterity (over which he felt obliged to offer a simpler alternative, not resorted to on this recording). Other alternative suggestions (incorporated in the present performance) do not strictly adhere to Beethoven’s letter, but seem better to capture the spirit: two little replacements of tremolos by arpeggios towards the end of the first subject group, and some left-hand figurations at the end of the exposition are well worth playing. At the end of the movement, Liszt’s main text simplifies Beethoven’s by turning semiquavers into triplets, but the original rhythm, offered as an ossia, is preferable.
The piano writing in the Larghetto (surely one of Beethoven’s most glorious inspirations, unaccountably dismissed by him in later years) goes to extraordinary lengths to imitate the orchestration. The peacefulness of the general effect belies the amount of hand-crossing and finger-interlocking which Liszt requires in order to preserve the details.
Of course the piano cannot really imitate Beethoven’s splendid tossing of one-bar fragments about the orchestra which constitutes the theme of the Scherzo, but Liszt’s arrangement is nevertheless full of leaps, ever-changing dynamics, and great quantities of general brio.
As in the first movement, Liszt offers one or two passages in a simplified texture in the finale. But the general technical order is of such a level that one might as well attempt the tougher versions which in any case are closer to Beethoven’s text. Any notion of this being a rather lightweight and simple symphony are properly dispelled by the whole nature of Liszt’s approach to it.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993