Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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Movement 1: Poco sostenuto – Vivace
Movement 2: Allegretto
Movement 3: Presto – Assai meno presto – Da capo [tutto] – Presto – Assai meno presto – Presto
Movement 4: Allegro con brio
The mighty introduction somehow emerges with its full stature, even though many elements have to be transposed up or down an octave in order for all the lines to fit within the mortal compass of the hand. If the spirit of the dance informs Beethoven’s Vivace it becomes quite a high-kicking affair in Liszt’s arrangement where the leap is the predominant step, to such an extent that one often seems to be playing in three different registers of the piano at once, especially in the coda.
As with so many of the slow movements, Liszt’s version of the Allegretto is a masterpiece of the transcriber’s art. In every variant of the melody after the countermelody has joined in there are at least two disparate things which must be managed by the right hand, whilst everything else must somehow be reached by the left. And although Liszt has to resort to octave transpositions from time to time he does a marvellous job of keeping everything going, even in the treacherous fugato.
Whether or not one attempts the ossia passages, the Scherzo remains a prodigious piece of pyrotechnics—just as it is for the orchestra. These alternatives come at every bar where Beethoven has a trill in the original. Liszt begins the trill and ends with an arpeggiated Nachschlag which spirits the line to the upper octave for each answering bar. The resulting colours are well worth the effort, even though the nine consecutive trills at the end of the Scherzo are not for the faint-hearted. The repeat from bar 148 back to bar 25 is respected by Liszt, if not by many a contemporary conductor.
One of the greatest alterations between the two versions of Liszt’s transcription concerns the Trio, which is given very grandly in the first version but approached with a much simpler attitude in the present version, even leaving out Beethoven’s octave doublings until the fortissimo shortly before the Scherzo and Trio are repeated entire (save the ritornelli).
The finale, like the first movement, requires a good deal of stamina but manages to convey just the right rumbustious atmosphere. The few proposed simpler alternatives are of so little respite in the face of the general order of things that they are best ignored, as here.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993