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Orchestral Pieces (Orchestralw Box set

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Pleasant addition to the shelves of the Liszt completist Sept. 30 2015
By Alexander Arsov - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This charmingly sloppy set offers a good deal of pleasure to the Liszt completist. The last disc is by far the most important as it contains two seldom recorded marches. Liszt left at least seven versions for solo piano of the famous Rakoczy March, the most famous being Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 (wisely given here as a “bonus track”). Liszt’s orchestral version is twice longer and, though not quite as colourfully orchestrated as Berlioz’s, it makes for a stirring orchestral showpiece. Not even the most ardent Lisztians would claim that the Goethe March is among Liszt’s finest orchestral works. Then again, it was not meant to be. It is another showpiece; very enjoyable one, too, with a haunting main theme and a beautiful central section.

The other great rarity is A la Chapelle Sixtine, Liszt’s unique tribute to Allegri and Mozart. The story, for which we have the authority of Leopold Mozart, how the 14-year-old Wolfgang copied from memory Allegri’s Miserere is world famous. So was it in the nineteenth century, it seems. So far as I know, this indifferent recording is the only one of the orchestral version in existence. Let us hope that it will not remain the last one. In the liner notes to his recording of the piano version in 1990, Leslie Howard wrote that the orchestral version “has, at the time of writing, never been published or performed”. This is outrageous. This powerful work deserves to be heard more often – and performed better. Haenchen’s handling of the Miserere-part is more or less dismal. Still, hats off to him for the courage to perform the piece at all. The whole of the second disc, by the way, can also be found on Brilliant Classics coupled with Inbal’s Faust Symphony as a twofer.

All other works on these four discs, though hardly over-recorded, have been better served elsewhere. The Hungarian Rhapsodies in their orchestral guise with Dorati on Mercury Living Presence are excellent, the Dante Symphony with Sinopoli (DG) or Barenboim (Teldec) blows away the sloppy rendition of Haenchen and the Netherlands Philharmonic, Karajan has left recordings of Tasso and Mazeppa that dwarf the competition completely, Hungaria and Orpheus are beautifully done by Haitink and Joo in their complete sets, and Les Preludes has been recorded by just about evrybody, including many conductors (Karajan, Solti, Bernstein) infinitely greater than Ahronovitch.

This is not to say that these performances are worthless or unlistenable. Far from it! Korodi conducts the rhapsodies with real flair. Gyula Németh goes through the marches like a house on fire. Not a dull minute with these two. Ferencsik tops them both. He makes me wonder what he might have achieved if he had had the much greater opportunities of his more illustrious compatriots Dorati and Fischer. I am no fan of the nationalistic nonsense that only Hungarians can really play Liszt, only Poles Chopin, only the Russian Tchaikovsky, only the German Wagner and so on. The fellows simply are good, that’s all. Even Haenchen and Ahronovitch, the most disappointing of the bunch, are not entirely without merit. Their defects are due more to formidable competition than to intrinsic weakness.

The sound is thoroughly mediocre, but sufficiently clear and with an agreeable dynamic range. It’s quite good enough to enjoy the music. If the Capriccio logo is to be believed, it is digital, but no recording dates, much less locations, are given in the booklet. Except for basic track details, it contains only one short essay in German and English (the latter apparently made with Google translator). All this is to be expected considering the price. Casual Liszt listeners have no business acquiring this set, but Liszt completists ought to have it.

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