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Tyler Hay’s richly comprehensive recital opens and closes with two of Liszt’s grandest and darkest utterances: the BACH Fantasy and Fugue and the Weinen Klagen, Sorgen Zagen Variations, both performed with superb mastery and poetic empathy. The pedalling is rich and full, achieving a sonority that never degenerates into percussiveness, and when you hear the split chord ascent near the close of the former work (for John Ogdon ‘like the tortoise of Hindu mythology, appearing capable of carrying the heavens on its back’) you will hear a young pianist of already towering achievement.

So far so wonderful. But a suspicion that Hay is less happy in more interior music is confirmed in the four Valses oubliées, music of an unsettling, bitter-sweet regret, the product of Liszt’s change from ‘exuberance of the heart’ to ‘bitterness of the heart’. Here, there is insufficient sense of so many hallucinatory flickering half-lights (try Richter’s live Prague performance of No 2, with its uncanny sense of prophecy and ambiguity). In ‘Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este’, an evocation of an incomparable garden where fountains replace flowers, you miss a finer sense of fantasy and a religious undertow.

Most surprisingly, the Mephisto Waltz No 1 lacks the sort of devilishness shown by the likes of Cziffra, Earl Wild and, more recently, Kit Armstrong. You will hear too little of the ‘swaying, clinging eroticism’ to which Louis Kentner refers in the central episode. The programme ends with Abschied (Farewell) a late fragment that leaves you hanging in mid-air, confirmation that Liszt’s complex personality will remain an enigma for ever. Superbly recorded and with scholarly notes by Mark Viner this is a mixed bag, though worth its price for the opening and penultimate offerings alone.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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