I'm a HUGE Aimard fan, but there are some problems with this release. First, the good...the program is absolutely brilliant. The concept is great, and one of the best things about it is that it celebrates Liszt without overwhelming us with work after work that sounds the same (too often the case with Liszt recitals) or that we have all heard Horowitz play better! As always, and as Santa Fe so astutely points out, Aimard is perfectly at home with everything here...except most of the Liszt works. The early 20th century sonatas are phenomenal and the French modernist works are to die for. Even the unknown to me Wagner Sonata was fantastic.
Now we get to the first problem...Aimard just doesn't seem to identify with Liszt. As Santa Fe says, it's like he's trying to get us to take medicine (and it kind of sounds like he's trying to get himself to take it, too!), and that's truly unfortunate. I tried for about 20 minutes or so to love his Liszt Sonata in B Minor, but I finally gave up. The passion, the emotion, the turns of feeling, the tempo and dynamic contrasts just aren't there. Even Rubinstein, who gave a somewhat careful performance of the work, seems much more at home in the sonata than Aimard, to say nothing of Argerich, Horowitz, or my personal favorite, Zimerman. The rest of the Liszt works find Aimard sounding uncomfortable, forced, and generally out of his element.
All of that said, I think there is a much bigger issue with this release...and the problem here lies squarely on DG's shoulders. First, and foremost, a pianist of Aimard's caliber embarking on a live recording of this magnitude in Vienna should be able to get a tempered, well-tuned, working piano! The upper register is screechy and out of tune, and the B above middle C is not working correctly throughout the entire recital. It seems like this problem could have been fixed after the first night, but it's consistent in every track, and quite annoying during the Liszt Sonata...which of course is in B (minor)! This brings me to the more annoying point (before I conclude my rant). Aimard's recordings when he was with Teldec were consistently fantastic. The programs were well-thought out and prepared, the recordings were of the highest quality, and each new recording was something of an event worthy of this magnificent artist. Since moving to DG, Aimard seems lost in the shuffle. He has yet to be given the red carpet treatment he's worthy of at DG, and his recordings have become mostly middle-of-the-road. What's particularly annoying is that on iTunes today (10/4/11) the entire Classical front page is dedicated to Lang Lang's Liszt recordings. It's a shame that DG, which at one time was the best classical label in the world, would rather pander by pushing Bang Bang over a true artist such as Aimard.
Despite my deep desire to like this recording, especially as eagerly as I awaited it, I must painfully admit it is a disappointment. Better luck next time.