, June 2011
These Naxos music educational packages get better and better. This new one released to mark the centenary of Liszt’s birth on 22 October 2011, is particularly generous. It can be a very useful reference point for both young people learning the basics of classical music and experienced music-lovers who would appreciate such a compact resource.
It includes Malcolm Hayes’ very readable introductory biography with a useful selected bibliography for further, deeper study. Hayes covers the composer’s early life as a travelling virtuoso and his disastrous personal relationships with his women, especially Countess Marie d’Agoult and Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein; the vicissitudes of his chequered romance with the latter lady would strain the belief of readers of even the most outrageous fiction. Also well documented are Liszt’s friendships with some of the leading composers of the times including Berlioz, Chopin and Wagner. In between the biographical chapters there are none-too-technical appreciations of the music. These are often cross-referenced to the musical excerpts on the accompanying CDs and to the special web site which incidentally includes hours of extra music offering works heard on the CD in full. Online one can hear all the pieces that comprise Années de pèlerinage, première (Suisse), et deuxième années (Italie) and Harmonies poétiques et religeuses. The emphasis of the musical examples on the two CDs, is unsurprisingly placed on Liszt’s piano works. The soloists—Kemal Gekič, Oxana Yablonskaya, William Wolfram, Philip Thomson, Arnaldo Cohen and, most frequently and very satisfyingly, Jenő Jandó—deliver lucid and evocative performances. It is amazing to realise that Naxos have published 32 albums of Liszt’s piano works. These include his sacred pieces and his many transcriptions of other composers’ operatic and symphonic works. The discs are listed on the web-site; good publicity for Naxos but nevertheless another useful addition. Speaking of other composers, the web-site also carries some music typical of composers who influenced Liszt or were included in Liszt’s circle: Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Hummel, Mendelssohn, Saint-Säens and Wagner.
If all this wasn’t enough, the book also provides a full track-by-track analysis of all the pieces on the two CDs, a glossary of musical terms and a brief descriptive list of all the personalities who impacted on Liszt’s life and music.
Will satisfy Liszt admirers as well as all music-lovers whether beginners or experienced performers or listeners.