Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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Movement 1: Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Szene am Bach: Andante molto moto
Movement 3: Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute: Allegro 3/4 – Allegro 2/4 – Da capo [tutto] – Tempo I
Movement 4: Donner – Sturm: Allegro
Movement 5: Hirtengesang 'Frohe dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm': Allegretto
The greatest problem facing the interpreter of Liszt’s transcription is the preservation of outward peace when the hands are being put through contortions, frequently involving the quiet stretching of elevenths. But that said, the Sixth remains perhaps the most congenial of all of the Symphonies from a pianistic point of view. ‘The Awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the countryside’ revels in the joy of finding all of Beethoven’s textures so faithfully reconceived in such grateful writing. And not a ripple or birdsong is missed in the ‘Scene by the Brook’—to the extent of some dangerous left-hand stretches simultaneous with combined trills and melodies in the right hand. And tranquil athleticism is the only way to describe the requirements at the recapitulation with its added clarinet and violin arpeggios.
Liszt apparently told Berlioz that he played the second eight bars of the ‘Happy gathering of the country folk’ slightly slower because they represented the old peasants—in contrast with the young peasants at the opening. Few conductors would gamble their reputations upon such a risk in performance, but it seems like an excellent idea to have in mind whilst performing the piece. High points of the transcription include the wonderfully mad bit with the fiddle ostinato, the oboe melody and the artless bassoon which turns out to be quite a challenge at the keyboard, and the whole 2/4 section which imitates the bagpipe and brings the flute counterpoint into much finer prominence than most orchestral balance usually achieves.
‘The Thunderstorm’ is an inspired piece of virtuoso writing. Just as Beethoven extends the demands on his orchestra in the interest of special effects, so does Liszt mirror them in equivalent pianistic devices, and the relief when the storm subsides is almost tangible in both cases. Similarly, the ‘Shepherds’ Song. Joyful, thankful feelings after the storm’ finds Liszt at one with Beethoven’s spirit. In the matter of the text there is one serious blip at bar 225 where Liszt does not pick up a mistakenly transcribed harmony from his first version: he has a simple dominant seventh where he ought to have an F instead of an E. (The F is restored in the present reading.) Whereas it is a conscious decision of Liszt’s to make a clean final cadence and sacrifice the last falling semiquavers of the basses.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993