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Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Liszt’s Album d’un Voyageur, the product of a man who had just left behind his teenage years, is a sort of first draft of the Swiss Année d’Pelerinage. Many sections of the later work are here, in a different order: “La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell” is nearly last rather than first, and “Les Cloches de G” is right in the middle rather than at the end (and is twice as long). “La Vallée d’Obermann” begins with a very different, fragmented version of what would later be its more easily flowing main theme; the rough draft sounds a bit like a sketch for “Vesti la giubba.” “Au bord d’une source” is not quite as sweetly appealing in its harmonies here, not quite as “catchy” as the final draft. And there are two movements, the first and last, which did not make the cut for inclusion in the Années.

One might be tempted, then, to treat this music as a historical novelty, a mere curiosity. But Ashley Wass plays this music with authoritative power; his combination of effortless virtuoso technique and “big,” spacious interpretation is well-suited to the spiritual Liszt we encounter in the Chapelle and on the shores of the lake of Wallenstadt. He knows “Au bord d’une source” isn’t a glittering encore piece in this draft and doesn’t try to play it that way. Wass is simply an all-around excellent Lisztian, as evidenced especially by his towering “Obermann”, in which he clarifies the disjointed initial material and joins it together with the familiar final minutes in a powerful dramatic arc. Indeed, his playing at the end of the movement is unmissable. Fascinating, too, is the transformation in “Cloches”, which ultimately became a nocturne but here has a narrative of sorts: clock-bells which both chime in the distance and resound up close.

The Apparitions are delicate little creations well worth knowing. They are all, as the title suggests, prone to dreamy harmonies and soft moods, but what’s really interesting is the variety of other composers the three short works evoke. A central episode in the first sounds rather like Chopin, a ballade or polonaise, and the last has traces of Schumann. Wass also adds a quiet lyricism which stretches out the occasional dissonance—an effect worthy of Scriabin.

So this is a fascinating Liszt recital, off the beaten track. Collectors will be interested, and they will be satisfied. For most listeners, the final draft of Années will be preferable, and performances of it by the likes of Lazar Berman will be more frequently in the CD player. But Ashley Wass’s playing is good enough to sustain listening on its own, and the pianophile at large will want to hear this if only for Wass’s brilliance. I hope he returns for more volumes in the Naxos complete Liszt series.

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, March 2011

And still they come. Volume 32 includes the seven Impressions. Five of them eventually found their way, somewhat revised, into Book 1 of the Annees de Pelerinage. Unless you must have every note written or revised by Liszt, you may be content with the complete Annees superbly performed by Lazar Berman or several other pianists. The two additional movements are ‘Lyon’, representing France, and dedicated to the composer’s spiritual mentor, the Abbe Lamennais, and ‘Psaume’ (de eglise a Geneve)’. The 12 additional minutes are worth having, and are more reflective and refined than blustery.

There is no question but that Liszt, smitten with the Countess Marie d’Agoult, was an inspired man and, apart from his physical passions, gave his all to his creations.

Apparitions has but three movements, with the last a Fantasy on a Schubert Waltz. The music came about as a result of a stay with the Abbe in the late summer of 1834. This is once again less rhetorical, avoiding the bombast that sometimes afflicts his music.

Wass adds to this series in fine form. He knows just when to be gentle and when to pile on the notes. If he is slightly less moving than Leslie Howard, it is only a matter of degree. The sound is very fine, though the mid-range fares better when the volume is turned up. Keith Anderson’s notes manage to squeeze in a lot of information, and the cover is graced with an attractive portrait of Liszt by the artist Chai Ben-Shan.

Patrick Rucker
Fanfare, March 2011

With several fine recordings of the Swiss book of Années de pelèrinage out recently—Libor Novacek’s (Landor 290) and André Laplante’s (Analekta 9980) come to mind—it’s a special pleasure to encounter this fine recording of the precursor to Liszt’s 1855 Année, the Album d’un voyageur. The remarkable young British pianist Ashley Wass has coupled the Album with another rarely heard early work, the Apparitions, for his latest Naxos release. Wass, who is 33, has an impressive number of recordings under his belt. He has focused attention on the piano music of several British composers not generally known for their keyboard works, including Bax, Bridge, Alwyn, and Elgar. His recording of Vaughn Williams’s formidable piano concerto (Naxos 8.572304) is one of the finest around. This new CD amply demonstrates that Wass is also a seasoned and perceptive Liszt player, possessing all the requisite poetic instincts, rhetorical versatility, and pianistic finesse.

Liszt composed all these works in his mid-20s. The Album d’un voyageur heard here is actually the first of three books so called, this one subtitled Impressions et poésies. It’s difficult to characterize in a few words the differences between the Album and the more familiar Swiss Année, published after Liszt had settled in Weimar. The contents of the earlier set—Lyon, Le Lac de Wallenstadt, Au Bord d’une source, Les Cloches de G(enève), Vallée d’Obermann, La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, and Psaume (de l’église à Genève)—in the Première année: Suisse, would become in the later version Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, Au Lac de Wallenstadt, Pastorale, Au Bord d’une source, Orage, Vallée d’Obermann, Églogue, Le Mal du pays, and Les Cloches de Genève. Wass plunges into the turbulent Lyon with unalloyed gusto. He approaches the work unapologetically, meeting its considerable virtuoso demands with alacrity. The rhetorical transitions between heroism and pathos are negotiated credibly and naturally. Moreover, Wass brings great clarity to the complex textures of Lyon (no small feat on the modern piano) in a way that reveals the fervent eloquence of this most politically revolutionary of Liszt’s works. Le Lac de Wallenstadt and Au Bord d’une source, differing in only small details from their final versions, are played with a superb calm that heightens their poetic imagery. Les Cloches de G(enève), Vallée d’Obermann, and La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, so different here from their final form in the Année, provide a fascinating glimpse into Liszt’s evolving musical imagination. While I doubt that anyone will prefer these earlier versions to their definitive forms, Wass makes an extraordinarily persuasive case for these younger conceptions, in and of themselves. He is able to do so, not least of all, because he is everywhere master of the significantly greater technical demands required by their beautiful and effective pianistic effects, many of which were later pruned and streamlined for the 1855 version.

Nothing in early (or late) Chopin or Schumann remotely resembles the remarkable harmonic and rhythmic audacity of Liszt’s 1834 Apparitions. Even had these works been recorded more often, Wass’s interpretations would no doubt dwarf the competition. Here, as in the seven Album pieces, his unqualified embrace of the music elucidates its very heart. Particularly effective is the last piece, Fantaisie sur une valse de F. Schubert, something of an embryonic Soirée de Vienne. As Wass plays it, it is as though the little Schubert waltz were recalled in a dream. Quite apart from his taste and discernment as a Liszt interpreter, Wass’s new recording may be appreciated as simply exquisite piano playing. Nor should it escape note that, for Liszt recordings during the 2011 bicentennial year, Wass has set the qualitative bar very high indeed.

Ates Orga
International Piano, November 2010


This is a wonderful release revealing Wass to be eminently at one with the composer and passionately in love with the instrument.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, October 2010

An excellent addition to Naxos’s complete Liszt piano music series

It is never less than fascinating to compare a composer’s first thoughts with his later clarity and refinement. Liszt was a tireless reviser and realising that his early work needed some drastic pruning, that his initial version of “Les cloches de Genève”, for example, outstayed its welcome, he replaced writing that cannot leave well alone with a composition of greater elegance, economy and focus. Yet the Album d’un voyageur, which later left its chrysalis state to become the more familiar Années de pèlerinage: Suisse, is of absorbing interest particularly when given with Ashley Wass’s wide-ranging contrasts of bravura and introspection. A specialist in English music, though with a comprehensive repertoire, he now turns to Liszt, taking the outsize demands of “Lyon” (Liszt’s theatrical curtain-raiser) in his imperious stride. He relishes every opportunity for expressive nuance in “Le Lac de Wallenstadt” (music where Marie d’Agoult, Liszt’s mistress of the moment, heard “a melancholy harmony, imitative of the sigh of waves and the cadence of oars’) and storms the final pages of “Vallée d’Obermann” as to the manner born. He is notably poised in Liszt’s valedictory “Psaume” and never more so than in the movingly protracted close, and he could hardly be more sympathetic to the three Apparitions, the first a work of far-seeing and ecstatic Romanticism. The 32nd issue in Naxos’s slowly progressing complete Liszt piano music, this is a distinguished offering, well recorded, of special interest and played with total musical commitment.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

In Naxos’s complete Liszt edition it is necessary to include the early Album d’un voyageur, though much of its contents later appeared in the far better-known Annèes de pélerinage. Here we have the first of three published books that carried the overall title. A sprawling score in seven sections, the fifth, Vallée d’Obermann, a substantial piece in its own right and often performed as such. Not far short of an hour, the work is a major undertaking in the concert hall, and even with studio editing there are passages that need a virtuoso of stamina and brilliance. In the past the British pianist, Ashley Wass, has received unbounded critical acclaim for his poetic and delicate playing. Now he displays his strength in a stimulating technical display. Between the rhetoric, bombast and pure self-indulgence that Liszt liberally spreads through the score, there is sufficient for Wass to weave his own personal peaceful magic. The gentleness as the bells ring in the clear Swiss air of Les Cloches de Geneve have that imaginative delicacy and freedom of approach in which Wass excels. He never hurtles into the big passages, and the steady pulse of Vallée d’Obermann pays dividends, the mass of repeated notes never sounding mechanical. Apparitions dates from 1834, the year before the Album d’un voyageur and when the composer was just twenty-three. The delicate and capricious nature of the first two movements is ideal for Wass, eventually opening out in the third movement, Fantasie sur une valse de F. Schubert. The upper octaves of the piano used are very bright, but the engineers have achieved a realistic sound. Highly recommended.

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