Lisztomania? It was a Ken Russell film. And the name described an actual phenomenon, crazed admirers of the great pianist Franz Liszt aka Liszt Ferenc back in the 19th Century.
And there’s a CD from Mikolaj Warszynski, capturing a live concert from 2017.
I’m a bit of a Lisztomaniac myself I suppose. So many of my musical experiences are filtered through the lens of Liszt. He was not just a great pianist interpreting his music, but an original, one of a kind, opening doors that others have gone through since. In an interview concerning Melancholiac The music of Scott Walker, Gregory Oh spoke of other composers similar to Walker. Oh spoke of Liszt. I’ve always seen him as one of the most under-rated pathfinders; but I couldn’t reconcile my intuition with a logical rationale. At least until that interview that is. I’m seeing connections between such disparate persons as George Gershwin and Dvorak, Franz Liszt and Nicole Lizée with the help of Oh’s commentaries on Scott Walker. Listening to Johann Strauss last night—especially his Zigeuner tunes & dances—my mind naturally connected to the Hungarian Rhapsodies and composers who connect to popular and/or folk music.
There’s so much to him, as philanthropist? as a supporter & promoter of other composers? as a theorist & thinker? I don’t think Liszt is appreciated. But excuse the lengthy preamble / digression.
I’ve been listening to the Lisztomania CD for weeks. Or is it months? I have been thinking about this music, having been so many times through the CD that I have a clear image in my head. You may recall that I wrote earlier this year about a CD by Warszynski playing mostly romantic piano music, including Liszt & Chopin. That earlier CD had more Chopin (Polonaise op 26 #2, Scherzo #1, Nocturne op 48 #1 and Polonaise op 53), with just the one big Liszt warhorse (the Mephisto Waltz #1).
I still can’t tell whether he has a preference between the two (Liszt? or Chopin?), which might be another way of saying that he does justice to both composers, a highly original & authentic approach to each composer.
This time except for a single tiny Chopin encore (the A minor Mazurka Op 68 #2) tucked in second-last near the end, it’s all Liszt including several big pieces.
- Il Penseroso, that begins the 2nd of the Années de Pèlerinage
- Un Sospiro, concert Etude
- Liebestraum #3
- Hungarian Rhapsody #10
- Ballade #2
- Hungarian Rhapsody #12
- Petrarchan Sonnet #123 from later in that second of the Années de Pèlerinage
Let me talk for a minute about the different flavours of Liszt that we explore on this CD. We’re not encountering the opera transcriptions or song transcriptions or symphonic transcriptions nor are we hearing the big Sonata.
Warszynski assembles a program for a live concert that we hear on the CD (or so one would assume). This is a particular corner of the Liszt phenomenon we might call “Liszt the romantic poet”. Warszynski assembles, or should I say curates(?) the sequence to flow naturally, from the darkness of the opening Il Penseroso, to the optimism of “Un Sospiro”, to the well-known melody of the love-dream, Liebestraum #3. Those three seem a bit like an opening chapter. The stern and rhythmic decisiveness of Il Penseroso contrast the inspiring flow of the Etude, and more flow of a gentler sort in the Liebestraum.
Then we come to the stormy middle of the concert, three huge works that push any pianist at least as far as showing technical ability. I have to wonder, does Warszynski think he has to avoid sounding like a show-off? It’s a problematic aspect of virtuosity, damned if you do, perhaps also damned if you don’t.
But Warszynski doesn’t. That is, he doesn’t seem to play any of these pieces to show off. If anything he’s showing us a subtler Liszt than you might have expected, a genuinely poetic Liszt without the artificiality one would associate with the circus act that is virtuosity for its own sake. That’s not the real Liszt but it’s so hard to get to a level of skill, an ease with the technical requirements to be able to toss the music off, sounding musical rather than showy. I think it also means that given the choice one aims for the most purely musical effect, dodging the big coups de theatre and the fireworks.
In the last part of the CD we’re into a gentler place, with the quirky Mazurka and the questioning voices of the Petrarchan Sonnet.
In the previous review I wondered about the process, how pianists get known & how they become stars. I continue to wonder. Warszynski deserves to be known.
Click here to find out how you can obtain the CD.