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Liszt
Piano Concertos
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat, Piano Concerto No.2 in A, Totentanz, Hungarian Fantasy
Oleg Marshev (pf)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Matthias Aeschbacher
Duration 73 minutes
Danacord DACOCD 651

I approve of the ‘modesty’ of this recording. So often, piano concerto recordings of the Romantic era beleaguer the ears in an attempt to underline a soloist’s brilliance. Frequently everything is ‘up-front’ and on some occasions it is only the piano that is ‘up-front’ while the orchestra provides a mushy accompaniment.

This is not the case with this honest release; if sometimes a little shy in the woodwind department, the engineers here match the unfussy style of the playing. Interestingly and in my view, appropriately, the recording gives the piano a fair degree of stereophonic ‘spread’ with highs on the left and lows on the right except when loud passages throw up the occasional acoustic reflections from the piano lid, but then that is a normal concert-hall phenomenon.

Oleg Marshev is flowing in style, the First Concerto is full of invitations to lean heavily on meaningful phrases but this pianist accepts none of them. The scherzo in particular has an eager fluidity and for once the solo triangle is strictly rhythmical. On the other hand, the full orchestra has an almost chamber-like quality at times and this makes the slightly dry acoustic sound rather small at the beginning of the finale. This is nevertheless a refreshingly performed movement because there is no hint of the bombast that many interpreters impose on it.

It could be argued that the Second Concerto is more thoughtful in character and certainly this suits Marshev’s style. The unusual inter-linked form, with slowish movements placed first and third, makes it difficult to distinguish the work from an extended ‘fantasy’. Marshev is nevertheless able to give individual character to each section and the excellent cello soloist in the soulful solo midway through the third section deserves special mention. The delicacy of the high notes in the final pages is one of the more subtle effects amid a forceful peroration.

The two remaining pieces are geared towards a virtuoso soloist to an even greater extent than the concertos and the massive flurry of notes at the start of Totentanz makes it clear that Marshev is certainly not going to take a chamber-music approach here. The make of piano used for this recording is not specified but here is music that exploits its particularly rich lower register. True there are showy cadenza passages but largely Liszt is at pains to exploit the dark, threatening nature of the ‘Dies Irae’ (Day of Judgement) theme throughout.

By contrast, the Hungarian Fantasia represents outgoing virtuosity from beginning to end. The weighty introductory sequence is wonderfully anticipatory of the fireworks to come and once again Marshev is reticent in his approach to the virtuoso writing, which, while still exciting, has yet to get into full flow. Around halfway through, the pianistic demands become increasingly great, as indeed does the speed. Amid all this, the soloist’s attractive characteristic of unflinching momentum, evident in the concertos, becomes even more evident. Liszt does indeed throw in contrasting quieter moments but Marshev gives a sense of forward motion in even the gentlest of passages. The showers of notes are thrown off with deceptive simplicity and however rapid the pace the phrasing is shaded with great precision. This work is certainly the least intellectual one on the disc, but Marshev treats it with an admirable combination of musical respect and pianistic virtuosity.

Antony Hodgson

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