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: