I'd only vaguely heard of Valentina Lisitsa before I got this disc. But I will certainly be hearing her name (and her playing) again and again in the future. This, my friends, is the real deal. She brings something unique to each of the (very different) works played here, something that I've now listened to multiple times with increasing awe and appreciation.
Her 'Appassionata' is just that, impassioned. As I listened to the alternately tender and galvanic playing in this most familiar of Beethoven's sonatas I became aware that Lisitsa is a complete pianist, a complete artist. She gets deep into the keys for the bold, dramatic or solemn bits and yet has a fairy-light touch in the virtuosic spots. This is as satisfying an Appassionata as I've heard in years. My experience of this sonata goes back to my teens, more than sixty years ago, when I heard Rubinstein's recording (and begged my piano teacher to let me learn the sonata), all the way through Schnabel, Horowitz, Brendel, Serkin, Perahia, Arrau, Craig Sheppard, Louis Lortie and on and on. Lisitsa's performance is clearly the equal of any of those and she brings her own unique dramatic and poetic sense to the process.
Schumann's 'Kinderszenen' is often thought to require only moderately advanced technique, but that is clearly an underestimation of the works' difficulties, both technical and musical. Lisitsa's 'Träumerei' ranks with Horowitz's, and I've simply never heard as stunning a rendition of 'An Important Event' before now.
Thalberg was a virtuoso pianist, a rival of Liszt's, who made his career mostly playing his own rather lightweight virtuoso pieces. Only a few of his works deserve more than an occasional hearing. His 'Grand Fantasy on Motifs from Rossini's "Barber of Seville"', however, is one that deserves to be heard often, partly because of its construction, which is masterly, or because of its mind-blowing technical fireworks, or its loving reconstruction of some of the most familiar (and some startlingly unfamiliar) motifs from Rossini's opera. I've heard the work in at least ten recordings and this one is the best I've ever heard. Lisitsa has the fastest fingers in the West but make no mistake she uses them musically.
I have never been very fond of Liszt's bombastic 'Totentanz', either in its original piano/orchestra version or the piano-alone version, which we hear here. But Lisitsa makes me almost a believer and there are, frankly, some passages that make sense to me for the first time ever. This is an exciting performance. Huzzah!
I'll be looking for more Lisitsa, that's for sure.