Liszt is best known for his piano music and symphonic poems, but he also composed two symphonies - this one and a Dante symphony. The symphonies are perhaps even more accessible on first hearing than the symphonic poems because there are more recognizable melodies. The Faust symphony is in three movements that respectively represent Faust, Gretchen or Margarita and Mephistopheles. When Liszt composed the work in 1854 he was at the height of his powers as composer. It is an orchestral work throughout until the final section of the finale which is scored for choir and tenor solo - here the Pro Arte Choir of Lausanne and the tenor Werner Krenn.
Several composers of the Romantic period composed ballets, operas, symphonies or, like Robert Schumann, scenes based on the Faust legend, usually as related by Goethe. Like his son-in-law, Richard Wagner, Liszt in this work uses the idea of musical motifs to represent characters or their emotions. This was not originally a digital recording, but with digital reprocessing I have no problem at all with the quality of the sound reproduction in this Decca Eloquence double CD. The orchestra is L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by its founding conductor, Ernest Ansermet. Ansermet conducted the orchestra from 1918 to 1968. I love this work and, of my three recordings, this is my favourite for the atmosphere of the whole performance - exquisite.
The CDs also contain the `Two Episodes from Lenau's Faust' - the Dance at the Village Inn or Mephisto Waltz No.1 and the Nocturnal Procession. On the second CD there is also Liszt's Symphonic Poem No.11, the Hunnenschlacht (the Battle of the Huns). To complete the second CD we have an orchestral rarity - the Symphony No.3 by Alberic Magnard, born the same day as Carl Nielsen but whose life-span was an almost exact contemporary of Claude Debussy. Magnard's symphony has more affinity in style to those of Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than to any music of Debussy's and certainly nothing of Nielsen's. Magnard was a pupil of Cesar Franck and Vincent D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum and there is something of their musical style in his own work. This is an enjoyable and interesting work with which to end this double CD.