on 1 October 2006
This must qualify amongst the better recordings available of any orchestral work by Liszt. Bernstein gives an exhuberant, powerful performance, extracting from his Boston players matching prowess. The recording quality serves the approach well, taking full advantage of the superior accoustics of the venue (Symphony Hall, Boston) in a very realistic perspective; you'll hear the BSO grimace, explode in anger, whisper lyrically and change abruptly from one mood to another, in a recording with a very wide recording range that serves this score of extremes very fittingly. Bernstein excelled in this kind of repertoire, he was especially gifted to conduct these romantinc works that explored the full range of emotional writing as well as that of the orchestral capabilities of the day. Liszt's harmonical experimenting and programmatical proposals played a key role in what came after him (Wagner, Mahler) and Bernstein always approached his works with that special quality in mind. So, if you agree with this attitude, you'll like this Faust Symphony, excellently remastered by DG for their "Originals" series.
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 Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Kenneth Riegel. The score carries the additional description: `In three character portraits (after Goethe)'. 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 is a most enjoyable piece of Romantic music, well played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein on the DGG label. I would also give a 5* rating to the performance of the same work by L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet on the Decca label.