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B - but certainly not minor,
This review is from: Liszt - B-A-C-H, Totentanz, Sonata in B minor (Audio CD)
I first encountered Markus Groh back in 1995 when he participated in the CMIREB (Concour Musical International Reine Elisabeth de Belgique), and I have to say that at the time I was singularly unimpressed. So unimpressed, in fact, that I was downright appalled when he carried the laurels ahead of the much more enticing Finnish pianist Laura Mikkola. However, one of the (undoubtedly many) upsides to a 35 year carrier as a concert pianist, as was the average of the members of this '95 jury, is the ability to see through an uneven and at times mediocre performance, and seek out - at long intervals, more often than not - the rare and singular artist truly worthy of posterity. What I have seen and heard since of Herr Groh (although on disc that has not been a whole lot) has certainly been worth both the prize and the spate of words rewarded this the first ever German winner of that particular prestigious competition.
Groh's Liszt is - that goes without saying - exceptionally well played, but on top of that it is also exceptionally meticulously analyzed, leaving every part of the much loved (but often artistically underestimated) piano sonata with its own atmosphere and personality. Such an approach often threatens the unity of a work lasting close to 30 minutes, but Groh manages to keep the threads of the quilt nicely together regardless of colour, providing an interpretation that is at the same time an academy lesson in compositional technique and a tit-bit of romantic pianism on a par with masters like Pollini and Zimerman. Rarely have I heard the sweaty toil of the fast passages so seamlessly joined with the Endymion beauty of the slow, romance-like ones, and Groh's justification for his various choices of interpretation, printed in the sleeve notes in the form of a letter of admiration to the composer, is for its remarkable insight thoroughly worth the read.
The Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H is an at times uncharacteristically abrasive piece that, though it has never been among my Liszt favourites, still requires a formidable technique. That said, Groh's is one of the most balanced and well thought-through renditions I have come upon for a long time, and one that will be especially valuable to listeners unfamiliar with the work.
To me, the "Totentanz" without orchestra will always be like pudding without custard, something every Englishman worth his salt knows simply is not done, but since Liszt made the efford (during all of one afternoon, I'm sure) of producing this solo piano version, it is nice to hear it played with such utter conviction - and a characteristic aplomb, I find it only fair to add.
The recording is first class with a piano sound that is both warm and fully rounded, though perhaps a tad heavy on the bass - as seems to be to the taste of present day CD producers.
All in all a very appealing issue that I shall treasure for a long time, and which I am sure will hold its own even subjected to stiff competition, as tends to be the lot of recordings of this music.