V 30: Complete Piano Music - S
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Complete on 99 CDs, Leslie Howard's recordings of Liszt's piano music are among one of the monumental achievements in the history of recorded music. Remarkable as much for its musicological research and scholarly rigor as for Howard's Herculean piano playing, this survey remains invaluable to serious lovers of Liszt. Every known note of Liszt's piano music has been recorded and is included here: Leslie Howard's 57 original volumes plus the further three supplements. The set has been awarded a Guinness World Record for the world's largest recording series by a solo artist.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Since almost all of the individual CDs have been reviewed separately here on Amazon, I will endeavor to review the physical aspects of the set. First, the box: it is quite sturdy, very smooth to the touch, and not at all like some of the cheap offerings from other classical labels. Inside are the 99 CDs, arranged as they might be if sitting on a CD shelf, and color-coded by sleeve as follows:
Discs 1-6: Etudes and early works
Discs 7-19: Major original compositions
Discs 20-29: Dances, marches, & transcriptions of Liszt's own works
Discs 30-36: Pieces on national themes
Discs 37-49: Operatic fantasies, transcriptions, and paraphrases
Discs 50-61: Concert transcriptions
Discs 62-69: The Beethoven transcriptions
Discs 70-79: The Schubert transcriptions
Discs 80-94: Rare works and new discoveries
Discs 95-99: Music for piano and orchestra
Each individual cardboard sleeve lists the contents for that individual disc, with track timings. Sitting on top of the discs is a very slick booklet, which contains the following:
-A biography of Leslie Howard.
-A disc and track index (without timings).
-An introduction to Liszt's music and the recording project itself (in four languages).
-An index of Liszt's piano music by "S" number (based on the numbering done by Humphrey Searle); at the end of each entry, numbers indicate where a particular piece can be found, by disc and track location.
-An alphabetical title index of Liszt's piano music, again with numbers to locate the piece by disc and track.
-Reproductions of photos (yes, there are photos of Liszt !) and other depictions of Liszt.
In addition, one may download, at Hyperion's web site, all of the liner notes which accompanied each CD release over the years, including original color artwork of each disc cover. Those liner notes and artwork can be downloaded at this page: [...]
I visually inspected each of the 99 discs, and they are all flawless, which itself is an amazing achievement. The set arrived at my home two days ago, and I have listened to 5 discs (most of which are timed well over 70 minutes). The recorded sound is transparent, detailed, and full (but uncongested), something that Hyperion has perfected and which other labels only strive for. Howard's playing is amazing; there may be better versions of individual pieces, but I doubt that his general level of excellence over the long haul can be matched, at least not in my lifetime.
To be able to buy this set for $274 (which is what I paid) is a steal, a bargain, a no-brainer ... use whatever similar analogy you'd like. That works out to about $2.77 per disc. In this year 2011, the 200th anniversary of Liszt's birth, to have a set like this, at a price like Hyperion is offering, is a gift. Thank you to Leslie Howard and to Hyperion for enriching the lives of classical music lovers everywhere.
I have been followong Leslie Howard's complete-Liszt-piano-music project from afar for a number of years. I assumed (always dangerous)he was a second-tier pianist trying to make a name for himself by attacking a humungous feat. His article in Wikipedea makes no mention of any activity in the United States, which was another strike against him.
I was wrong. His playing is world-clss technically and musically. The quality is persistent throughout, with an unceasing elan. You'd think he'd approach some of the music lackadaisically: "Ho hum, another thirty waltzes today." Not so, at least not in the samples I listened to.
Okay, I figured, let's start with The Sonata. As good as any I've heard. The Beethoven-symphony transcriptions: better than any I've heard. Opera paraphrases and transcriptions: Superb.
Comments on the opera works: such works were allegedly written for home use because so few poeple would afford to go to live performances. If so, the amateur players at home must have beeen awfully talented, because it sounds like it would take players of Liszt's talent to play them. Second, they are best listened a disc at a time, because there are only so many "frills" Liszt could use -- scales and cadensas in thirds and fifths, arpeggios, thundering bass (How often is bass not "thundering"?) -- and in time they can become tiresome, although through no fault of Howard's. Many of them address operas by composers who have passed into the darkness of obscurity.
He fantasized-paraphrased-transcribed other works of countless composers, not only of Beethoven, Liszt (yes, he transcribed his orchestral tone poems,Rossini, and Schubert and Schubert and Schubert -- nine-and-a-half CDs of Schubert alone -- and scores of others. There are more transcriptions and parpaphrases of others' work than there are original compositions of his own. Again, I've never heard of many of the composers.
His voicing is perfect: the melody is always there.
Packaging is unsurpassed. The big box is color-coded for the different types of music, and the contents of each CD are printed on each sleeve.
Shop around. You should be able to get a better price than the list price or the Amazon price.
But then, as an undergraduate music student at the University of Virginia in the 1970s, I was forced to listen to and study the Sonata in B minor. While Liszt's orchestral music had left me unimpressed, the Sonata was wrenching, heartbreaking music... some of the most profound piano music, or music of any sort, I had ever heard.
So when Leslie Howard started on his recording marathon, I started buying the CDs.I was hooked. I ended up buying each one separately.
You would expect that out of such a gargantuan opus, some would not be masterpieces, and this is so. Surprisingly, though, 99%, including the many orchestral transcriptions, _are_ indeed masterpieces.
Liszt may not have had a clue how to instrument and orchestrate his musical ideas, but -- when writing for the piano, at least for a virtuoso like Liszt himself, or Leslie Howard - he is second to none, notwithstanding Chopin or Schubert. Certainly, this was music he wrote to perform live during his sold-out rock-star concert tours, but it is still high art.
And his transcriptions of opera, theater music, string music, and all of Beethoven's symphonies are themselves masterworks. His ability to to capture the essence of this music rises to the level of genius. Admittedly, it takes a virtuoso talent with a deep understanding and appreciation of the music to bring this out in performance, and here Leslie Howard shines. Indeed, the combination of Liszt and Howard provides these transcriptions with some of the best performances of the works ever recorded. For one particular example: the Hummel septet. The piano version here brings out a grace and sweetness I have never experienced in a live or recorded performance with the original instrumentation. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
If you buy this set, you will get far more than your money's worth.
Additional thoughts, upon listening again to the 9 CDs of Liszt's "transcriptions" of Schubert's music, which are some of the best of this collection. "Transcription" does not do these pieces justice. They might better be called "transfigurations." With his characteristic lack of concern for the difficulty of the music, Liszt presents much of Schubert's best piano music in, not a new light, but in the best light. Carrying this metaphor further, it's as if Liszt invites you to into an the invites you to view the ancient stained-glass windows of a Gothic cathedral, which you have only seen on your smartphone before. He's meticulously cleaned the windows, and brought you there on the precisely best date and time. The sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating them to best effect. In truth, these reinterpretations, played effortlessly by Leslie Howard, are the essence of Schubert, distilled to clarity, without any impositions by Liszt. These CDs contain some of the greatest art produced by the human race.