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PIANO WORKS [Box set]

Jorge Bolet , FRANZ LISZT Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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One of the greatest interpreters of Liszt, Jorge Bolet recorded eight volumes of his solo piano musicfor Decca. These recordings have previously only been available separtely and at top price. Anadded bonus in this collector's edition box is a nineth CD, which includes the reminiscences onthemes from Bellini's opera 'Norma' and the Fantasia on Hungarian folk themes.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine collection of Liszt treasures Jan. 11 2004
Format:Audio CD
The booklet of this set has an interesting explanation of why Jorge Bolet stayed out of the spotlights for so long before taking up his -glorious- career. It was his devotion to Liszt. By then, in the 1950s, Liszt was still regarded as a B-composer (There are still people who tend to think so: I read someone who called Liszt 'the father of all bar pianists'. Now, if you know a worse offence...). Only after Liszt's reputation had increased, Bolet could enter his 'Indian summer', which lasted from about 1975 until his passing away in 1990. During this period, he was finally able to perform his favourite music as much as possible. This fine 9-disc set may indeed be Bolet's most important testament. Additionally, it's one of the most important Liszt collections on the market. But beware: there's much more than just Bolet, considering Liszt's piano works. I can't say this is the perfect set or near it. Still five stars, for some astonishing piano playing that we don't come across very often nowadays.
Bolet won a Gramophone Award for his 1st book of Années de Pelerinage, which is not strange when listening to the recordings. This is a portrait of a man who's entirely on his own, looking for his soul while wandering trough the beautiful Switzerland - I can't say it better than B. Johnson already did. It's Romantic nonsense, of course, but in Liszt's days it was a common idea, and it can still sweep me away. Bolet's superior tonal colouring - beautiful, but not too far-driven, for the risk it would almost be too intimidating - and his peaceful nature lift this music to the greatest heights. My only complaint would be the 'Orage' piece: Bolet's technique can't quite handle it, and its aggressive nature is much less overwhelming as a result.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethella Chuprik and Liszt piano works April 20 2001
By "jrs7r"
Format:Audio CD
I have to say it has taken me quite some time to track this CD down. I owned a recording of this CD when it was printed under the Lydian label. This is a recording of Ethella Chuprik doing Lizst piano sonata in b flat, rhapsode espangol, mazeppa, and mephisto waltz. I have listened to alot of different recordings of the above, including Leslie Howard's interpretations on Hyperion records, and I have to say this is truly a brilliant interpretation and performance of the work. Both the piano sonata and the mephisto waltz are by far some of the best recordings I have heard of these pieces. Ethella Chuprik builds into crescendos that are absolutely gripping. While this is a budget label, the sound quality is remarkable. While I am not sure what type of piano this was recorded on, it has the richness of a steinway, and the airiness of a concert hall, with none of the superfluous noise that can sometimes ruin a good concert hall recording. In any case, if you could not tell from the above, I am very enthusiastic about this recording. I hope you enjoy it too.
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I was very impressed with Bolet's playing. His rendition of La Campanella is the best I've ever heard.
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
141 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great collection of Liszt treasures Jan. 11 2004
By hjonkers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The booklet of this set has an interesting explanation of why Jorge Bolet stayed out of the spotlights for so long before taking up his -glorious- career. It was his devotion to Liszt. By then, in the 1950s, Liszt was still regarded as a B-composer (There are still people who tend to think so: I read someone who called Liszt `the father of all bar pianists'. Now, if you know a worse offence...). Only after Liszt's reputation had increased, Bolet could enter his `Indian summer', which lasted from about 1975 until his passing away in 1990. During this period, he was finally able to perform his favourite music as much as possible. This fine 9-disc set may indeed be Bolet's most important testament. Additionally, it's one of the most important Liszt collections on the market. But beware: there's much more than just Bolet, considering Liszt's piano works. I can't say this is the perfect set or near it. Still five stars, for some astonishing piano playing that we don't come across very often nowadays.

Bolet won a Gramophone Award for his 1st book of Années de Pelerinage, which is not strange when listening to the recordings. This is a portrait of a man who's entirely on his own, looking for his soul while wandering trough the beautiful Switzerland - I can't say it better than B. Johnson already did. It's Romantic nonsense, of course, but in Liszt's days it was a common idea, and it can still sweep me away. Bolet's superior tonal colouring - beautiful, but not too far-driven, for the risk it would almost be too intimidating - and his peaceful nature lift this music to the greatest heights. My only complaint would be the `Orage' piece: Bolet's technique can't quite handle it, and its aggressive nature is much less overwhelming as a result. Nevertheless, the rest of the pieces show him at his very best. So does the second year of the Années (that is oddly placed in the set before the first year by Decca). The Dante Sonata, one of Liszt's greatest pieces, fares very well under Bolet's hands.

Equally excellent were the Schubert Song Transcriptions. The transcriptions aren't very different from the original songs, but they are definitely interesting. Especially when someone like Bolet takes them under his hands! All songs are terrifically played, with real standouts like `Auf dem Wasser zu singen', `Der Mueller und der Bach' and `Erlkoenig'. Bolet's romantic touch (he may have been the last of his kind) lets the music unendingly flow. Brilliant!

These comments also apply to Liszt's Consolations, which are placed on another disc. Liszt shows here how much he's in debt to Schubert, and wrote music of a disarmingly lyrical nature. Bolet gives almost naively innocent readings of these pieces. Talking about singing music, why not include the Liebesträume, `Venezia e Napoli' and many, many other pieces as well. Although some people still regard Liszt as a bombastic composer, he was in fact much more active on the spiritual and lyrical area. It is largely this nature of Liszt that is put into the spotlights by Bolet. He is really terrific whenever music ought to sound peaceful and meditative.

But Liszt was also a stunning virtuoso. People may eschew him for that, but that's often without any good ground. The B minor Sonata and the Transcendental Etudes, to give some names, are not only pianistically but also musically amazing works. It takes to be both a good technician and a musician to play them well, and this is where Bolet occasionally fails. He was over 65 when he made these recordings, and I can't help but say that his technique was not anymore what it used to be. In many pieces you can hear him struggle.

In what may be the most difficult music Liszt wrote, the Transcendental Etudes, Bolet takes tempi that are almost too easy (e.g. no.10 should be `Allegro molto agitato' but Bolet plays it very moderately), perhaps because his technique was by then too limited to give the pieces a really impressive treatment. Even then, I do feel a ertain nobility in Bolet's slow approach that gives every study a dignified stature (and that's something you won't find with Kissin or Cziffra!). The sonata is similarly noble and yet tremendously powerful in its scope, even though Bolet may lack some technial control at isolated spots.

Anoter treacherous piece is the `Reminiscences de Don Juan', which is a transcription of no less an opera than -of course- Don Giovanni! Bolet plays this 20-minute piece with a lot of humour and swing: it's a great way to clean up your mind! Also recommendable are the Etudes de Concert (e.g. Waldesrauschen), whose light spirit is very well captured.

A treasure trove set overall, I can recommend it without any limitations. There's no other composer that suited Bolet as well as Liszt, and the vice versa may be true as well. But the pianist also has his weaker points, particularly regarding his technique, that wasn't what it used to be. Oh, and the piano sound is not always equally convincing: the instrument sounds a little shrill at times. But there's an amazing amount of colour in the instrument, and it allows Bolet to reachfor the deepest, darkest sonorities you've heard. This collection is therefore not just THE best Liszt: there are many more pianists who made supreme recordings of him (e.g. Arrau, Brendel, Richter) and I definitely recommend searching them out as well. After you've heard this!
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My desert-island Liszt box set April 23 2011
By Alexander Arsov - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Let's get something straight in the beginning: Jorge Bolet is an apotheosis of ANTI-virtuoso approach to the music of Franz Liszt. That is precisely why he is the pianist who - with the obvious exception of Leslie Howard of course - has probably done most to raise Liszt's reputation as a truly great composer, far removed from the once popular notion of meretricious dilettante. So if you like Liszt for virtuosity's sake only, you may just as well skip this box set.

I often hear Jorge Bolet's early recordings accused of too much virtuosity and his late ones (for DECCA, this box set) of too less virtuosity. This is tosh. Comparison between his two recordings of the Transcendental Etudes is very revealing: 1970 for Ensayo, available separately; and 1985 for DECCA, Disc 7 in this box set. Of course it is true that the earlier recording is faster and more powerful, but you cannot possibly mistaken Bolet's eloquent musicianship with that of any other pianist, his closest rival Claudio Arrau included. The late recording is very different indeed: it is perhaps the slowest ever recorded; it should be remembered, though, that Bolet in 1985 was 70 years old, for one thing, and that he was ill through most of the 1980s anyway. That said, he is still capable of stupendous technical feats - but the more important factor is that he managed, as every great artist does, to turn his technical shortcomings into musical advantages. His late recording of Liszt's Transcendentals, for all slow tempi and 'lack of brilliance', as some superficial listeners complain, is by far the most extraordinary interpretation I have ever heard. The contrast with the moronic banging and abominably fast tempi of Berezovsky, Cziffra and co. is glaring, to say the least. Liszt's Transcendental etudes are NOT technical exercises to train you piano muscles on. Above all, these are some of the most evocative, poetic and imaginative pieces for solo piano ever written.

And there is a great deal more on these nine discs that this truly unique rendition of the Transcendentals. And Bolet is amazing at all fronts.

It is to be deeply regretted that there are only three of Liszt's operatic paraphrases here. But all of them are fabuluosly played - by which I mean with great musical insight, not with piano-smashing hammering. The famous Don Juan Fantasy was one of Bolet's first recordings for DECCA, made in December 1978 when he was 'only' 64 years old and had just signed, amazingly, the first major recording contract in his life. In 1978 Bolet's technical prowess was pretty much intact, yet he refuses to make a cheap show of one of Liszt's most perceptive compressions of a whole opera into a piano piece of outstanding length and complexity (and the opera, of course, is Mozart's Don Giovanni, no less). Some may lack the stupendous virtuosity of, say, a Earl Wild (who is also a fine musician, by the way), but certainly there is no lack of poetry and insight into both Liszt's and Mozart's scores. By contrast, only the slightly less famous Norma Fantasy was recorded ten years later and live (1988, Carolyn Blount Theater, Montgomery, USA). As usual with Bolet, he is slower than most and far more profound than everybody. I, for one, have never heard this piece played more beautifully, yet with fine dramatic touch as well (note the transition to the last subject). The well-known Rigoletto Paraphrase displays the same combination of noble restraint, great sonority and impeccable musicianship that are so typical for everything Bolet plays. Take it or leave it.

One cannot but regret also that in November 1981 Jorge Bolet recorded only 12 of Liszt's transcriptions of Schubert's songs. These are all gems. Bolet is as fiercely dramatic in 'Erlkönig' (but without any exaggeration) as he is meltingly lyrical in 'Der Muller und der Bach'. The drama of 'Aufenthalt', the poignant playfulness of 'Die Post' and 'Die Forelle', the wistful lyricism of 'Der Lindenbaum': all that - and much more - is captured here with unforgettable vividness. Bolet's recording of 'Auf dem Wasser zu Singen', one of Liszt's most imaginative transcriptions (almost a paraphrase actually!), is by far the best in my listening experience; Bolet builds a powerful climax as effortlessly as nobody else does. On the same disc there is also a magnificent recording of Liszt's fascinating and unjustly neglected orchestration of Schubert's great Wanderer Fantasie, recorded in 1986 and with the excellent Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic accompanying.

Speaking of piano and orchestra, one misses here both concertos, but they are available separately from another label, recorded in the late 1970s, in good sound and with Bolet in top form. What one does get in this box set, though, is one of the finest 'Totentanz' on record - nothing in common with Zimmerman, Cziffra or Freire. Bolet treats the haunting variations on the famous Dies Irae chant with utmost respect and entirely without any showiness. The same is true for the outstanding performances of the popular Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Tunes and the vastly neglected 'Malediction' for piano and string orchestra, one of the most astounding early masterpeices of Liszt. In all cases Ivan Fischer and the London Symphony are splendid - and splendidly recorded. It is a pity that Bolet recorded only one of the rhapsodies for solo piano - No. 12 - for this is the best illustration why his playing is often described as 'noble'.

Perhaps Bolet's highest point are Liszt's most lyrical pieces. He is without peer in the Consolations, the Liebesträume, the Three Concert Etudes (especially 'Un Sospiro') and the first of the Two Concert Etudes ('Waldesrauschen'); the second of the last set, the charmingly vivacious 'Gnomenreigen', is beautifully played too. When it comes to fabulously virtuoso pieces such as Mephisto Waltz No. 1, recorded as early as 1982 by the way, many may well find Bolet's approach unacceptable. His recording certainly lacks the diabolical quality usually associated with the piece, but, then again, there is a great deal more than Mephisto here. You might just as well be surprised by some subtle nuances which elude many a pianist who simply play much too fast to notice them.

Yet to say that Bolet lacks drama when it is needed is to misunderstand Liszt's music completely. Though in some parts of the first two books of 'Annees de Pelerinage' - Switzerland and Italy, recorded complete here - Bolet does lack brilliance, even though I may prefer Ciccolini's impassioned playing (in 'Orage', especially), I wouldn't want to be without Bolet's extraordinary touch either. His Dante Sonata certainly doesn't lack infernal colours at all; nor does his powerful performance of the monumental Second Ballade lack drama. All three of the Petrach Sonnets, it goes without saying, are perfectly unique in terms of richness of tone and poetical depth. Last but not least, Bolet's 'Venezia and Napoli', yet again, employs unusually slow tempi, not to distort the music, but quite on the contrary: to illuminate it. Note the ethereal coda of 'Gondoliera', the ominious left hand in the 'Canzone' and the incomparable middle section of the 'Tarantella'.

We are fortunate to have Bolet's late recording of Liszt's greatest masterpiece too: the Sonata in B minor. It is played in the same regal manner, with enormous sound without any banging, and with suave but massive climaxes. Overall, Bolet's tempi are faster than what is fashionable nowadays, but there never is any rushing. His climaxes are all the more moving because of their restraint. I have yet to hear an entirely satisfactory recording of this tremendous work, but if I must choose one and only one performance, I'll go with this DECCA recording of Jorge Bolet (recorded in September 1982 and on Bechstein, by the way).

Indispensable part of Bolet's greatness is that he treats even the so-called 'showpieces' with great care and seriousness. For that's exactly how they should be treated. Much venom has been spilt on Liszt because of his 'Grand Galop Chromatique' or 'La Campanella' by snobbish folk for whom the uproarious fun of the former and the glittering charm of the latter are somehow unacceptable. Nobody puts these pieces besides the Sonata, of course, but Bolet's recordings amply demonstrate that there is much more in them than mere technical wizardry. As it might be expected, his are probably the slowest 'Galop' and 'Campanella' on record. I wouldn't change either for any pseudovirtuoso who tosses off the former for mere three minutes without having any idea what it is all about or rapes the latter in order to show-off his finger dexterity. In these pieces, as always indeed, Bolet is in class of his own.

Unfortunately, but expectedly, there is only one piece from the third book of the 'Annees', and this is of course the most famous one - 'The Fountains of Villa d'Este' ('Le jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este'), and only two pieces from the 'Harmonies poétiques et religieuses', again the most famous ones: 'Funérailles' and 'Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude'. Though Bolet does have serious competition about the former (which Horowitz owns anyway - check his mind-blowing recording from 1950), I have never heard more tranquil and serene rendition of the latter - Arrau included. As I mentioned above, when lyricism and poetry are called, so far as I am concerned, Bolet is all but unsurpassed.

Last but not least, the box set comes with a compelling liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas. In a charming and witty style he summarises Liszt's music and place in musical history, Bolet's life and personality, and the contents of all nine CDs. If this box set has any drawback, this, surprisingly for many perhaps, is the sound. It is very clean of course - all recordings but Don Juan and the five Concert Etudes are digital - and the dynamic range is staggering. But the bass often sounds flat and the high register shrill. This may be due to the somewhat unusual pianos Jorge insisted on using - Baldwin and Bechstein - but I very much doubt it. Anyway, this is a very minor drawback which only occasionally mars otherwise financially and artistically outstanding set.

Jorge Bolet is one of those artists whom you either like or dislike but can never quite ignore. If you are in the first group, these nine discs are a real treat.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethella Chuprik and Liszt piano works April 20 2001
By "jrs7r" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I have to say it has taken me quite some time to track this CD down. I owned a recording of this CD when it was printed under the Lydian label. This is a recording of Ethella Chuprik doing Lizst piano sonata in b flat, rhapsode espangol, mazeppa, and mephisto waltz. I have listened to alot of different recordings of the above, including Leslie Howard's interpretations on Hyperion records, and I have to say this is truly a brilliant interpretation and performance of the work. Both the piano sonata and the mephisto waltz are by far some of the best recordings I have heard of these pieces. Ethella Chuprik builds into crescendos that are absolutely gripping. While this is a budget label, the sound quality is remarkable. While I am not sure what type of piano this was recorded on, it has the richness of a steinway, and the airiness of a concert hall, with none of the superfluous noise that can sometimes ruin a good concert hall recording. In any case, if you could not tell from the above, I am very enthusiastic about this recording. I hope you enjoy it too.
29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethereal LIszt in Superb Sound Sept. 29 2006
By Classicalman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Piano playing of extraordinary romantic depth and breadth. Bolet is inside Liszt's mind, as Liszt's romantic self unfolds on the keyboard. It is as if Bolet is the master himself. Superlative recordings to boot!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bolet is one of my favorite Liszt interpreters and this BOX SET is the reason why. April 22 2012
By Someone with an opinion - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I spent 2 weeks listening through this box set. The best parts of it are the complete collections such as the First, Second and Supplemental Years of the Annees de Pelerinage and the complete Transcendental Etudes. The playing is compelling and the technique is near flawless, if not flawless. I like the fact that Bolet does not rush through any one piece for the sake of speed over substance but I feel his playing of the Galop Chromatique is too slow. I really wish this set further included the entire Harmonies Poetiques and the entire Annees de Pelerinage. Had it contained those two works in their entirety, I would've given this box set 6 stars out of 5.
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