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In this set French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie takes on the entire 'Années de Pèlerinage' to great effect. From the nobility of the 'Chappelle de Guillaume Tell' from the Swiss year to the spirituality of the 'Sursum Corda' from the 'Troisième Année' and all the drama and emotion in between, we are treated to exciting, moving playing by Lortie, a pianist primarily known heretofore for his playing of French music, e.g. Louis Lortie Plays Ravel's Complete Works for Solo Piano, and more recently to my own surprise all the sonatas of Beethoven Louis Lortie: Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas. Lortie has always been known for his Apollonian musical persona underneath whose surface is a deeply thoughtful expressiveness, for me a perfect combination.

Some highlights: Without question this is the finest 'Vallée d'Obermann' (from the Swiss year) that I've ever heard, and I'm including recordings by such masters as Richter, Arrau and Bolet. Lortie's sensitivity to the emotional importance of this great piece's recurring descending theme before it arrives at its final apotheosis is strikingly apt. The gentle rocking of the barcarolle 'Gondoliera' from the 'Venezia e Napoli' section is hypnotic. One can see the sparkling play of glistening drops of water in 'Au bord d'une source.' The subtle emphasis of the proto-impressionist harmonies in 'Sposalizio' and 'Il penseroso' points to harmonic developments of future composers like Debussy and Fauré, a connection some pianists seem to miss. And more.

Any pianist who can make Liszt's often bombastic 'Dante Sonata' sound like a veritable masterpiece gets my vote. Louis Lortie does that. Indeed his traversal of all three years of the 'Années' is masterful. I had known that Lortie had recorded some Liszt earlier in his career to acclaim Liszt: Works for Piano & Orchestra (including an earlier recording of the Italian 'Année' Liszt: Annees De Pelerinage) but I had not heard any of those performances. So I was more or less unprepared to be bowled over as I was with this budget-priced 2CD set of all the 'Années'. Part of the delight, which I hadn't realized until I looked closely at the jewel box, was that Lortie is playing a Fazioli grand piano whose sound is sumptuous and utterly clear. Further, the recorded sound engineered by Chandos's own Ralph Couzens is utterly lifelike.

A definite recommendation then particularly at the attractive budget price.

Scott Morrison
44 comments|17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 March 2013
This set is a very real bargain. Each disc contains 80 minutes of music and the sound recording is just about the best I have heard of a piano - a wide, deep soundstage and a big, though never uncomfortable, dynamic range from thrilling 'fortissimi' to the most delicate 'pianissimi'.

I must say that Lortie was no more than a name to me but I heard on French radio a panel of critics concluding that his was the best "Années" available and I see no reason to doubt that judgement. This was Liszt's first really great work showing that he was more than just a showman. He wrote it when his passionate affair with Marie d'Agoult was at its height, and it was she who encouraged Liszt to develop intellectually and read more philosophy and theology. The passion and sense of peace and awe as well as the evocation of landscape, particularly in the First Book ("Suisse"),are all conveyed in Lortie's reading, which is both moving and exciting.

So don't hesitate: these days one can't be sure how long a recording will remain available.
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