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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, August 2008

The Liszt arrangements of the Beethoven Symphonies are quite something—and something else if you’re a pianist…These arrangements are not for home consumption—they are fiendishly difficult…This is a very exciting and satisfying account of Beethoven’s Ninth, given by two of the best young pianists working today. An absolute must.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, August 2008

The splendid Naxos series of Liszt’s Complete Piano Music continues its momentum with this winning release of a seminal work of the Romantic orchestral repertoire in its guise as a two piano transcription.

Last year I selected two discs from this series as my 2007 ‘Records of the Year’: Volume 24 played by Giuseppe Andaloro featuring the Grosses Konzertsolo and Four Mephisto Waltzes on 8.557814 and Volume 25 played by Alexandre Dossin of Liszt’s Verdi Concert Paraphrases and Transcriptions on 8.557904. More recently I enjoyed Volume 27 played by William Wolfram in Liszt’s Donizetti Operatic Reminiscences and Transcriptions on 8.570137.

The reason why Liszt should take the trouble to prepare piano transcriptions of all nine of Beethoven symphonies is rooted in his lifelong admiration for the composer…Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies are universally acknowledged as a most impressive achievement.

With Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ninth, the partnership of Leon McCawley and Ashley Wass responds to the considerable challenges with enthusiasm, stamina and assurance…Throughout I was struck by feelings of intense turbulence, high drama and energy, laced with rapture, combined with a sense of spiritual conviction for this wonderful music.

The essay from Keith Anderson in the booklet is of a decent standard and I was impressed by the sound quality produced at the popular recording venue of the Potton Hall, Suffolk.

Michael Cookson
Classical Net, June 2008

The joyously melodic and satirical drama of the Molto vivace is given a performance of spirit and exhilaration. I loved the way the oceanic emotional depths of the Adagio molto e cantabile—Andante moderato were conveyed as a sublime outpouring of exaltation. …Throughout I was struck by feelings of intense turbulence, high drama and energy, laced with rapture, combined with a sense of spiritual conviction for this wonderful music.

… I was impressed by the sound quality produced at the popular recording venue of the Potton Hall, Suffolk.

C. Michael Bailey
Blogcritics, May 2008

McCawley and Wass’ two-piano performance of the Ninth Symphony offers an intriguing comparison to Scherbakov’s single piano version. Together they highlight Liszt’s genius, both musically and in the arena of public relations. Two pianos not only solve Liszt’s problem with the choral fourth movement but also augment the more difficult portions of the first and second movements.

It was obvious that Liszt fretted about this symphony as this two piano version predates the single instrument one by 15 years. This two piano performance is full and satisfying. The listener can readily hear the ideas the composer would incorporate in his final interpretation of the Ninth.

Jed Distler, May 2008

Although Liszt’s solo-piano arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony certainly is a virtuosic tour-de-force, his two-piano transcription more successfully addresses the score’s large dimensions in terms of textures, dynamics, color, and, in the finale, more audible distinction between choral and orchestral forces. Leon McCawley and Ashley Wass team up for its finest recording to date. Their headlong drive in the first movement evokes Toscanini’s archetonic ferocity. The pianists underline harmonic clashes and contrapuntal felicities by way of color shifts, accentuation, and nuance rather than tempo fluctuation. The same goes for their soaring Scherzo (with both repeats intact), where the obsessive dotted rhythms are consistently supple and accurate.

While the duo maintains rigorous tempo relationships over the Adagio’s brisk course, they avoid rigidity by way of discreet rubatos and tasteful lyrical inflections. It is not easy for two-piano teams to sustain long, loud episodes without forcing tone or losing rhythmic steam, yet McCawley and Wass wield the proverbial iron hands in mink gloves in their tightly knit, unified Finale. The sonics are slightly too resonant and bass shy, but the instruments are as well matched and balanced as the pianists. I hope Naxos already has enlisted these artists for Liszt’s two-piano version of A Faust Symphony. Highly recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

The high regard that Franz Liszt held for Beethoven was nowhere more exemplified than in the transcription of his symphonies versions for solo piano solo featuring in his recital repertoire that he toured through Europe. The Ninth, however, caused him misgivings in his inability to reproduce the choral contribution in the finale. His partial answer to that was to use two pianos. That transcription was eventually completed in 1851, its viability first tested by Clara Schumann and the young Johannes Brahms in a private performance. Dividing the task between four hands does offer more scope to fill out the texture to give an idea of the orchestra’s weight, the finale being one of the most powerful moments in the four hand repertoire. Liszt still wrote out the chorus words in the score, and I recently heard the four hand version with the addition of a small choir, the effect being totally convincing. The present performance comes from two outstanding British pianists who are linked by their success in the Leeds International Piano Competition. Their performance is particularly distinguished by the unfailing clarity of their fingers, a prerequisite in the score. They certainly do not dawdle, the scherzo taken very quickly, the work’s total time being little over the hour. Add to this a recording that should be regarded as the benchmark by which others should be judged, and you have a release I recommend without reservation.

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