The celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt is shared by performers, audiences, universities, societies, and cities during 2011. The Daniel Barenboim recordings from 1982 through 1998 now become a part of this exuberance, spotlighting the phenomenal skill and enduring popularity of this excellent musician. These fantasies and sonatas on Faust and Dante are rich selections from Liszt's prodigious output on subjects which were very popular with concert-going patrons in the 19th century. Those audiences were familiar with the works and the stories which inspired numerous composers of the period.
This is a 3 CD set in cardboard; the discs are difficult to read with white print on pale green background. Even the pictures on the cover are used on other Barenboim releases. While any student can dig for online information, the accompanying booklet should be a valuable introduction and indoctrination, beckoning the listener toward appreciation of this venue. The booklet lists the compositions and artists, but includes no discussion to help the new listener or student with insight into the pieces. Unfortunately, the tracks are not labeled on the playlist.
The first CD is comprised of a Faust-Symphonie in character sketches featuring the incomparable Plácido Domingo and the Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin. The Goethe work inspired numerous artists and audiences of that period. The Berlin Philharmonic is unquestionably the epitome of excellence in this performance.
Next the Dante Symphony on the Divine Comedy presents the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra performing the Inferno, Purgatorio, and a Magnificat using the ethereal voices of the Damenchor des Fundfunkchors Berlin. Liszt's music is especially appealing to those preferring the long build-up in the style of Wagner. The student is encouraged to explore the connection between these two composers, and the stories surrounding Liszt's inspiration. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, best-known of the Rhapsodies, features a very talented clarinetist, but commences with a dragging Lento. The placement of the microphone hampers the listening experience which would not be noticed in concert. The capriccio makes up for lost time by racing through to the can-can.
CD3 includes the Dante Sonata from 1849, quite different from the Symphony in CD2. This was written after Liszt heard a lecture on The Divine Comedy. Next the Sonata in b minor begins ominously, perhaps inviting the listener to a fantasy Halloween mystery tale. However, the mystery resolves to a moving, lyrical meditation before finally fading away. Paraphrases on compositions by Verdi conclude this portion of the performance.
Liszt-mania prevails this year, culminating with world-wide celebrations on October 22, 2011. Hundreds of recordings and performances will be compared to the skill and professionalism of Daniel Barenboim in these definitive renditions of Liszt favorites. Mr. Barenboim has set and still maintains a standard by which other performers are measured.