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Alan Becker
American Record Guide, November 2007

This is volume 25 of Liszt’s piano music on Naxos and the first time Brazilian born Dossin makes his series appearance. He plays without technical blemish and has the abandon required to bring off these display vehicles. My only regret is that he did not give us an additional 18min of goodies. Beyond the well-known Rigoletto Paraphrase, we have the Sacred Dance and final Duet from Aida, the Miserere from Trovatore as well as representation from Jerusalem, Don Carlos, Simon Boccanegra, and Ernani. All are interesting and played with a style totally in accord with Liszt’s treatment. As with most of the composers’ music, do not expect straight transcription; he toys with themes, embellishes them, and asserts his independence without any disrespect to the source. The sound is very good, and the notes by Keith Anderson are quite informative. As with many other volumes in this series, this one fills some important gaps at a price few can turn away from.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, November 2007

Born in Brazil in 1970, Alexandre Dossin studied at the Moscow Conservatory before moving to the United States. He has numerous contest successes behind him (including First Prize and Special Prize at the 2003 Argerich Competition)…From the opening measures of the Rigoletto Paraphrase, the reasons for his success are obvious: over and above the technical security that has become a given for modern contest-winners, Dossin displays an imaginative and immediately engaging romantic personality, molding articulation, rhythm, and color in a way that gives the music a vivid personal stamp. These are, on the whole, showy performances. I don’t mean that they’re aggressive in their virtuosity-indeed, you might possibly want more sheer steel in the big sempre ff outburst before the quiet coda of the Aida paraphrase. But Dossin surely indulges his capacity for grace (the opening of the Aida paraphrase, which can easily turn tawdry, here becomes a light-fingered jeu d’esprit), just as he revels in the sheer melodrama of the music. The celestial dolcissimo passage in the middle of the “Miserere,” the sweet tranquility at the beginning of the Réminiscences de Boccanegra, the bel canto melodies and filigree throughout—they’re all delivered without a hint of self-conscious constraint…Arrau’s famous readings are, by comparison, slightly dour…the sound is good; and Keith Anderson provides informative notes. A fine introduction to a talented pianist.

Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, August 2007

It is worth reflecting that Verdi was born two years after Liszt, so in recycling his operatic music for the piano he was paying tribute to a younger man. He was also familiar with the genre as a conductor of Verdi operas in Weimar during the 1850s. This disc is not quite a complete collection of Liszt’s piano works inspired by Verdi operas since only the second of the two Ernani paraphrases is included. Liszt also re-worked the Agnus Dei from Verdi’s Requiem and it is pity that this and the first Ernani paraphrase weren’t included. Nevertheless, only the Rigoletto paraphrase has been oft recorded and this
collection certainly fills a gap. The difference between a paraphrase and a transcription is a question of how much Liszt developed the thematic material—a transcription being more literal. The booklet is not very clear as to which of these pieces is actually a transcription—perhaps I Lombardi, this work itself having been recast as “Jerusalem” in 1847. The rest seem to be in the paraphrase or reminiscence camp. These pieces are not mere medleys of the best tunes but tend to revolve around the music at key points in the action. Apart from the Rigoletto paraphrase, all these works were new to me in this guise. Whilst there is no doubting that that work deserves its fame, the others are no mere also-rans. The final duet from Aida and the funeral march from Don Carlos are most movingly portrayed. The Boccanegra paraphrase is almost symphonic in conception and Ernani provides a rousing conclusion to the disc. The demands made by these works on Brazilian pianist Alexander Dossin are considerable. No doubt technical virtuosity is a prerequisite but the need to convey dramatic sweep is paramount. He more than meets these challenges. The recorded sound is excellent and notes by Keith Anderson provide detailed information relating to the relevant part of each opera plot. The Naxos Liszt piano series continues to prove valuable and, once again, music originally by another composer represents a high spot. This disc is highly attractive fare and Liszt’s Beethoven and Rossini (8.553961) await you for after.

Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, July 2007

Brazilian pianist proves to be a master at Liszt

Pianist Alexandre Dossin revels in the pyrotechnics and dramatic colors in these vivid transcriptions. The winner of the first prize at the 2003 Martha Argerich competition displays his credentials in the paraphrase of the quartet from “Rigoletto” that opens this collection. The Brazilian-born pianist revels in the cascade of notes in this score. He also supplies the somber tone Liszt's music demands. Dossin also scores in Liszt's intense transcription of the “Miserere” from “Il Trovatore” and the auto-da-fe scene from “Don Carlos.”

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Naxos are doggedly keeping their promise to record every note of piano music composed by Franz Liszt, and in so doing discovering some of today's neglected virtuoso performers. Here in the 25th volume we have pieces designed to titillate audiences with their favourite Verdi opera melodies dressed up with a myriad of glittering notes as hands fly around the keyboard. They were composed at a time when opera melodies came so much into the public domain that delivery boys would be whistling them. So Liszt could do as much as he wished in the guise of paraphrase, the dance from Aida coming close to parody. But there is more to it than surface glitter as we find out in the quiet sadness of the Salva Maria from Jerusalem, while others take on the guise of an original piano piece, the Trovatore excerpt given tremendous power that recomposes much of the original score. Winner of many major competition prizes, the Brazilian-born Alexandre Dossin is not from that breed of flamboyant Lisztsian who bemuses the listener with empty gestures. Dossin is a more caring performer who avoids speed for cheep effect, the music shaped in large sweeping phrases, with never a note out of place. That shaping of structure is particularly needed in the long Boccanegra piece, a score that can quickly become episodic as it draws in so much varied music. Until Liszt gets to work on Ernani I had never thought of its as one of Verdi's highly charged works, Liszt having you believe the soloist has developed three hands. It comes from Naxos's Canadian team who produce the best piano sound on the market.

Jed Distler, July 2007

Among Liszt’s operatic paraphrases and transcriptions, those based on Verdi operas constitute some of the composer/pianist’s most effective and satisfying efforts in the genre. Since Claudio Arrau’s reference recording of all seven can be had only as part of a boxed set, Naxos’ excellent single-disc edition featuring Alexandre Dossin is all the more welcome. Like Arrau, Dossin is a big virtuoso who obtains huge sonorities without banging, and is not averse to underlining Liszt’s expressive directives in red ink, with broad, rhetorical strokes. At times Dossin’s melodic pushing and pulling is a bit much (the Rigoletto Paraphrase’s exposition), yet more than enough moments reveal the work of a caring keyboard master. For example, Dossin coaxes great tonal variety and emotional impact from the murky low-register passages in the Miserere from Il Trovatore. Also note the I Lombardi paraphrase’s beautifully gilded arpeggios, Dossin’s sense of long-lined control throughout the taxing left-hand octaves in Reminiscences De Boccanegra, or the way he conveys both power and luminosity in the Ernani paraphrase’s bushels of chords. No doubt that Naxos’ ample, detailed sonics enhance my observations. I hope that the label has further projects in store for this talented pianist.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, July 2007

Whoever really wants to know what Liszt has done for the piano should study his old operatic fantasies. They represent the classicism of piano technique.” Johannes Brahms

This volume twenty-five of Liszt’s complete piano music contains seven of Verdi’s operatic paraphrases and transcriptions performed by Brazilian-born soloist Alexandre Dossin. Naxos have really shifted into overdrive with this magnificent series. Only a few weeks ago I nominated volume twenty-four with soloist Giuseppe Andaloro performing the Four Mephisto Waltzes; Two Elegies and the Grosses Konzertsolo as an assured ‘Recording of the Month’.

Biographer Rich DiSilvio holds the view that Liszt was, “one of the most awe-inspiring figures in all of music history.” Although generally regarded as the greatest virtuoso pianist of all time, Liszt’s genius extended far beyond his recitals and concerts. He was also a major influence as a progressive Romantic composer. A highly prolific and versatile composer Liszt produced approaching eight hundred scores covering most genres of which about half of them were piano compositions.

Before performances could be reproduced electronically the majority of music-lovers only had access to orchestral and operatic scores in pared-down arrangements for the piano for performance in the drawing room or salon. Liszt was the undisputed master of the ‘art of the transcription’ making numerous arrangements of songs, operas, symphonies; championing the music of mainly contemporary composers that he felt deserved attention. For example, the reputation of the songs of Schubert was greatly assisted by the liberal advocacy of Liszt’s transcriptions. Just how prolific Liszt was in this genre is revealed in my 1966 edition of Searle’s catalogue of works. The numbers S384 to S577 inclusive are all arrangements, transcriptions, paraphrases for solo piano, selected from a wide range of composers including some of Liszt’s own works.

Transcriptions and arrangements, sometimes known as piano reductions, were the lifeblood of many virtuoso performers in Liszt’s day. Although providing no profit to the original composer, Verdi did in 1865 acknowledge the value of Liszt’s operatic transcriptions as a way of disseminating his scores to a wider audience. Serving to popularise the melodies from his operas still further and advance his reputation this practice in effect formed part of a ninetieth-century Verdian marketing campaign. Liszt knew many of the operas of Verdi intimately having conducted several of them in his role as Kapellmeister in Weimar. This I believe was not mere plagiarism by Liszt but one great composer’s tribute to another. It seems that opera paraphrases and transcriptions often formed a significant part of a Liszt piano recital programme.

The designation that Liszt used to differentiate a piece as either a transcription, paraphrase, fantasy, reminiscence or arrangement was not a random operation. A transcription was the most literal and a process he usually applied to songs. Liszt’s description of a paraphrase, reminiscence, fantasy and arrangement denoted his freer interpretation of an operatic section or scene into piano notation. Later in his life Liszt tended to become more literal with his paraphrases as he attempted to encapsulate a single aria rather than almost an entire scene.

Liszt transcribed more of Verdi’s works than any other opera composer except Wagner. Firstly in 1847, Liszt composed a concert paraphrase on the opera Ernani, S431a, followed in 1848 by a transcription of the Salve Maria, S431 from Jerusalem (recast for Paris from I Lombardi of 1842). A year later in 1849 he composed a further paraphrase S432 on Ernani that he revised in 1859 for the use of pianist Hans von Bülow. Liszt in 1859 composed a concert paraphrase of the quartet Bella figlia dell’amore, S434 from Rigoletto and the same year a paraphrase of the Miserere, S433from Il Trovatore. Later in his career Liszt continued to demonstrate his admiration for Verdi by also publishing transcriptions of the Coro di festa e marcia funebre, S435 from Don Carlos in 1867-68, the Danza sacra e duetta final, S436 from Aida in 1871-79 and in 1877 the Agnus Dei, S437 of the Requiem Mass. In 1882 Liszt’s last work in the genre was a fantasy titled Reminiscences de Boccanegra, S438 from Verdi’s 1881 revised version of Simón Boccanegra.

Naxos have employed a large number of soloists for this continuing project to record the complete piano music of Franz Liszt. This appears to be Alexandre Dossin;s debut disc for the label. A graduate of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and holder of a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, it appears that Dossin is firmly established on the international concert and recital circuit. A recipient of several awards, he was awarded both the First Prize and the Special Prize at the Martha Argerich International Piano Competition in 2003 held at Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argerich gave Dossin the accolade: “…an accomplished musician and a wonderful pianist…”.

In these Liszt operatic transcriptions, Dossin is able to realise a compelling sense of Verdian drama combined with a broad range of melodic richness. He reveals himself as a polished and discerning musician with an astute sense of phrasing and dynamic expression. Liszt’s technical demands hold no fear for this soloist who avoids any temptation for extra sweetness or flashy over-emphasis. The recital provides many highlights and only the stoniest of hearts could fail to be moved by Dossin’s interpretation of the meltingly lovely melody in Reminiscences de Boccanegra, first heard at 0:26 (track 6).

Splendidly recorded at the Country Day School, King City in Ontario the sound is truthful and well balanced. To add to the excellent presentation Keith Anderson’s booklet notes are written to his usual high standard. There is enough room on the disc to have easily accommodated either the paraphrase from Ernani, S431a or the Agnus Dei transcription, S437 from the Requiem Mass; the two remaining Liszt/Verdi arrangements.

Naxos enter the winner’s enclosure yet again with this assured piano recital of highly attractive repertoire from Liszt. An eminently enjoyable disc that demands to be heard.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group