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Boris Giltburg excels in Liszt’s Transcendental Studies

Liszt: Études d’exécution transcendante

Boris Giltburg (piano)

I am becoming increasingly impressed by Boris Giltburg each time that I encounter a new release from him on the Naxos label. The Russian born, Israeli  pianist, is not only an outstandingly accomplished pianist, in the technical sense, but also someone who interprets the great works with a rare degree of insight and sensitivity.

The present recording centres upon Liszt’s Transcendental Studies but begins with one of Liszt’s favourite genres, the opera paraphrase Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto, S.434 after Verdi’s opera. This is a tremendous piece that demonstrates how brilliantly Liszt could adapt orchestral and operatic works for the piano. Here he adapts the famous quartet from Act III of Rigoletto and combines four voices and their accompaniment, whilst managing to maintain the nocturnal atmosphere of the original.

The Transcendental Studies are far more than mere technical exercises as Liszt injects each study with great musicality thus producing a set of sublimely moving sound illustrations. Such is Giltburg’s mastery of technique that in this performance we can fully focus on Liszt the sound poet rather than having our attention drawn to the special challenges that each presents to the performer.

The opening Preludio opens with suitably big crashing chords and the second half is performed most gracefully and sets the scene for what follows. In the loud, dramatic, Mazeppa Giltburg enables us to truly sense the crazy galloping of the horse, and Mazeppa’s endurance and suffering that Liszt is portraying. The final study depicts a snow storm and I’m convinced that I can feel the icy wind when I listen to this study with Giltburg’s fast runs on the keyboard depicting the frenzy of the snowy storm. Listen to the YouTube video below and see what you think.

This recording of the Études d’exécution transcendante faces some serious competition, notably from Daniil Trifonov on his 2016 Transcendental album, but this recording is worthy of shelf space (or perhaps disk space!) alongside any of them. At bargain price, with intelligently written, highly accessible background notes from Boris Giltburg this is indispensable.

iClassical rating: 

Mozart’s Concerto for flute & harp – Work No. 74 in our collection

The Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27.01.1756 – 05.12.1791) was, during his short lifetime, one of the most prolific composers of the classical era. He showed prodigious ability from an early age. Already competent as a pianist and violinist, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. Mozart went on to compose more than 600 works, many of which are acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music.

Many of Mozart’s Piano Concertos and Violin Concertos are worth a place in any collection but in this instance we have opted for a concerto that he wrote for flute and harp. This fine work was written in April 1778 having been commissioned by Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, duc de Guînes, a flautist, for his use and for that of his eldest daughter, Marie-Louise-Philippine, a harpist, who was taking composition lessons from the composer. The soloists in the piece sometimes play with the orchestra, and at other times perform as a duo while the orchestra is resting. The flute and harp alternate having the melody and accompanying lines and in some passages they create counterpoint with just each other. This work is one of the most popular double concertos in the repertoire and is the only piece that Mozart wrote for the harp.

We have decided to include a fine performance featuring Frank Theuns (flute) and Marjan de Haer (harp) accompanied by Anima Eterna directed by Jos Van Immerseel. This CD, on the Alpha label, has the benefit of containing a performance of Mozart’s only other double concerto, his Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat major, K365, in which Jos Van Immerseel is one of the soloists. The final work on the recording is the Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, K447 in which the soloist is Ulrich Hubner.

View the other works in our collection.

Dowland songs beautifully sung by Grace Davidson

Dowland: First Booke of Songes (1597)

Grace Davidson (soprano) & David Miller (lute)

The soprano Grace Davidson has been rapidly gaining prominence as a performer of Baroque music; notably in the works of Vivaldi and Handel¹. Her purity of tone and unaffected singing is something that I admire. On receiving this November release for review I wondered how her bright voice would come across in the songs by John Dowland; who did not write the most cheerful of music.

Fortunately Dowland’s first book of lute songs, many of which were previously unknown to me, proves to be less full of misery than his instrumental works Lachrimae and Seven Teares. The First Booke also contains a number of familiar works such as Can she excuse my wrongs?Come heavy sleep and Come away, come, sweet love. As a set these songs contain more than a chink of light, a hint of wit and, perhaps, even a sense of pleasure in the courtly gesturing around unrequited love!

On this release Grace Davidson is accompanied by David Miller. David Miller is a fine soloist and an equally accomplished accompanist on his lute. His spare, dry harmonies, together with the appropriate acoustic provided within Ascot Priory, enable Grace Davidson’s vocal line to carry great emotional weight. Some might consider her sweet, bright voice too cheery and chaste for these songs of unrequited love and self-pity but for me Grace Davidson is just spot on – her beautiful phrasing and well controlled expression complimenting the fragile accompaniment to perfection.

There is a useful accompanying booklet that provides information about the works and performers together with full texts for each of the songs; though the latter are hardly needed such is the quality of Grace Davidson’s diction. The soprano appears to have been close-miked since her breathing can be clearly heard although it is by no means a distraction and overall the recording quality is very good. This is a genuinely beautiful album that will give much pleasure to those who appreciate Renaissance songs and I, for one, cannot wait for more. Let’s hope that there will be further Dowland songs from this excellent partnership. Thoroughly recommended!

iClassical rating: 

¹ See our review of Handel’s Chandos Te Deum next week.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Op. 20 – Work No. 73 in our collection

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (07.05.1840 – 06.11.1893) was a Russian composer of the romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. Particularly noteworthy are his Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23, his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, his 1812 Overture, Op. 49 (complete with canon fire!), his Symphonies No. 5 & 6 and his ballets The Nutcracker, Op. 71 and Swan Lake, Op. 20.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake is now one of the most popular of all ballets beloved for its superb dancing, beautiful sets and Tchaikovsky’s glorious music. There are many very pleasing recordings of this work including a recent release from Vladimir Jurowski on the Pentatone label and a bargain priced release of  André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. However our favoured version is Charles Dutoit’s superb 1991 recording in the amazing acoustic of L’Eglise de St. Eustache, Montreal where he conducted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Those readers who wish to view the ballet, rather than just enjoy the music, need look no further than the DVD of Dame Margot Fonteyn & Rudolf Nureyev with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra & the Vienna State Opera ballet conducted by that master of ballet music, John Lanchbery.

View the other works in our collection.