Part 1: Adagio sostenuto assai – Un poco più mosso
Part 2: L'istesso tempo
Part 3: Allegro agitato assai – Un poco più mosso – Tempo del Andante
Part 4: Allegro moderato – In tempo
Part 5: Allegro deciso – L'istesso tempo
Part 6: Sempre allegro – Marziale, un poco meno allegro – Un poco animato
Part 7: Un poco meno mosso – Allegro animato – Stretto – Sempre animato
Section 1: Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai
Section 2: Allegro moderato – Allegro deciso – Marziale, un poco meno allegro
Stephen Hough (piano), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton (conductor), Mats Lidström (cello)
Section 3: Un poco meno mosso
Section 4: Allegro animato
The first theme is striking for its juxtaposition of distant seventh and ninth chords which nevertheless fail to unsettle the principal key, clear from the opening chord. The piano enters with gentle arpeggios for the second statement, which is then extended into the transition to the second theme in a mellifluous passage with solo horn, oboe and cello. In a reversal of the usual constituents of a sonata exposition, the second theme is powerful and triadic, and is presented in D minor. A second transition presents a new theme which takes the music to B flat minor and a forceful tutti, bringing the exposition to an end. The development may be said to begin from the moment the soloist rejoins the orchestra, when the connection between the tutti theme and the end of the first theme is made manifest, and underlined by the little piano solo which calms things almost to the state of the beginning of the concerto. The tutti theme is then transformed in the orchestra into a gentle introduction extended by a short cadenza, and a reworking of the first theme in 4/4 rather than 3/4, in D flat major, with a solo cello. This is lyrically continued by the piano, eventually joined by oboe then flute in another transformation of the tutti theme, under which the violins play a phrase which at once derives from the first two chords of the concerto and yet outlines the melody (and sentiment) of a Liszt song Freudvoll und leidvoll.
The material of the first transition informs the cadenza which leads to the recapitulation of the second subject, in a robust D flat major, the lower strings playing the tutti theme in counterpoint. The recapitulation continues with a further transformation of the first transition, development of the tutti theme and second subject combined, and a transformed version of the tutti itself. The second transition theme ensues, now in A minor, and the general increase in tempo is finally reigned in with the recapitulation in the original key of the first theme, now transformed into a march and punctuated with fragments of the ubiquitous tutti theme. (Various commentators have been rude about this passage, noting its martial vulgarity and generally failing to see that it is the permissible moment of triumph at the final point of recapitulation of the first theme and the first time we have seen the home key since the opening pages of the work. Even Searle refers to this passage as occurring in ‘the finale’, showing not much appreciation of the structure.) As if to silence potential critics, Liszt uses the second transitional theme again to reintroduce the first theme in the most magical form, running on with a version of the same lyrical extension we heard with the cello solo, and continuing in the same manner through the Freudvoll und leidvoll phrase to a short cadenza. This cadenza, like so much of the binding material of this work, is derived from the alternate falling semitone and tone from the first theme, and these intervals now immediately generate the material of the animated coda. The coda is so superficially appropriate a peroration that it requires a second look to see how well it draws the whole argument together, with every theme represented in one way or another, right to the closing bars.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998