Even in an exceptionally gifted generation of French pianists, Cédric Tiberghien stands out for the breadth of his musical sympathies. His solo repertory ranges from Bach to Boulez, and his recordings reflect that span, yet this is Tiberghien’s first foray into Liszt on record. His selection is typically thoughtful, avoiding the barnstorming, high-Romantic pieces and concentrating instead on music that Liszt composed in the last decade or so of his life.
The seven numbers that make up the third book of the Années de Pèlerinage were mostly composed in the 1870s (only the penultimate Marche Funèbre is earlier), and are very different from the pieces in the two previous volumes, which had appeared two decades earlier. Their mood is more contemplative, and their language more forward-looking, sometimes—as in the most famous of the set, Les Jeux d’Eaux à la Villa d’Este—tending towards the world of Debussy and Ravel, sometimes even hinting at the expressionism of the Second Viennese School.
Each is a scaled-down tone poem, which poses its own set of technical challenges. But Tiberghien never flaunts his total command of those challenges and with an exemplary range of touch and keyboard colour, concentrates instead on these pieces purely as musical statements. It’s logical too for him to complete his collection with six of Liszt’s piano pieces from the 1880s, including the Bagatelle sans Tonalité, the troubled nocturne Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort, the Tristan-haunted second of the Lugubre Gondola sequence, and the unfinished fourth Mephisto Waltz. It’s music in which everything becomes enigmatic and ambiguous, and which regularly loses its tonal bearings; Tiberghien presents all of them as perfectly conceived miniatures that often pose more questions than they answer.