Liszt, 12 Transcendental Etudes Performed by Lazar Berman (Melodiya); Various Composers, “The Transcendentalist” Performed by pianist Ivan Ilic (Heresy).
What you have here is nothing less than a masterpiece of recorded piano music and its philosophical answer in sound. The masterpiece is Lazar Berman’s atom-smashing rereleased version of Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes,” one of those Russian recordings up there in the firmament of recording history (along with, say, Richter’s recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”).
The answer to it is Ivan Ilic’s “The Transcendentalist,” whose annotater Eric Fraad launches straightaway with a need for revisionism of the whole idea of “transcendental”: “In classical music, particularly piano music, the word transcendental is closely associated with the title of 12 piano studies by Franz Liszt. Liszt used the word to allude to the extreme difficulty of the music. The implication is that the musician who masters these works will transcend his or her technique, while stretching the physical, and by extension, expressive limits of the instrument … A broader awareness of the word’s use might lead us to expect that transcendental music would exhibit the opposite of the quest for speed agility or control.” And that’s what you have here from pianist Ivan Ilic, filled not only with a good deal of Scriabin’s always-remarkable and delicate mysticism but the still-shocking conceptualism of John Cage in “Dream” and “In a Landscape” and Morton Feldman’s 1986 “Palais de Mari” (whose simplicity is so stark it’s anything BUT minimal.) Completing the disc is a piece pointedly called “Music Without Metaphor” by Scott Wollschleger, a 34-year old pupil of former Buffalonian Nils Vigeland, himself the musician Feldman called “the most brilliant student I ever had.” It is music that like all on Ilic’s fascinating disc, completely “transcends” all idea of virtuosity altogether. (How can you not love a record label called ‘Heresy?”) Thesis and antithesis in perfect balance. You do the synthesis. Ratings: 4 stars for Berman/Liszt, 3½ stars for “The Transcendentalist” (Jeff Simon)