Liszt’s three books of Années de pèlerinage contain some of his most important music and exemplify the fusion of art and nature which was central to the nineteenth-century Romantic movement which the composer epitomized. Book 1, recorded here, reached its final form in 1855 but most of the pieces were written in the 1830s during Liszt’s stay in Switzerland with his mistress Marie d’Agoult. Each piece has an illustrative title and aims to capture the emotion invoked by a particular scene; this was a revolutionary approach to music in its time and allowed Liszt to create a whole new world where piano texture is used purely to create atmosphere.
Music requiring this degree of pianistic sophistication seems perfectly suited to the skills of Stephen Hough, and so it proves, as he captures to perfection the delicate glitter of Au bord d’une source or the grandeur of Vallée d’Obermann.
Unusually, the CD is completed with Liszt’s complete transcriptions from Gounod operas. The three pieces include one virtuoso warhorse – the Faust waltz – and two reflective and lyrical pieces which are almost completely unknown.