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A sympathetic portrayal of Liszt by Gabor Farkas


Liszt, "Opera and Song for Solo Piano" performed by pianist Gabor Farkas (Steinway)

At one time, the music on this would have epitomized the "claptrap and vulgarity" that Liszt, the matinee idol, brought into the concert hall and turned him into something of a forerunner of rock stardom.

This is Liszt playing familiar favorites that a rocker would describe as "covers" -- purposefully vulgarized paraphrases of songs, arias and concerti created by others who would have been unlikely to have cheapened them in this way: Gounud, Verdi, Chopin, Wagner, Robert and Clara Schumann, and, finally, Liszt's wonderful imagined own tone poem "Todtendanz" ("Dance of Death"), his set of variations on the "Dies Irae" theme so loved by composers after Berlioz used it so majestically in his "Symphonie Fantastique."

"Todtentanz" closes the disc. Usually, it's performed in the piano and orchestra version where its effect can be as chillingly Satanic as any music ever performed in the concert hall. Without the orchestra, it isn't the grand thing that pianists with great sounds (Byron Janis, say) can do with a conductor like Fritz Reiner. But it seems to be Farkas' 21st century point that Liszt needs to be played without what movie folks might term "special effects."

Would this have made adoring women swoon in salons and small recital halls in Liszt's time? Hard to say. But this is nothing if not a sympathetic portrayal of a side of Liszt that doesn't always get a lot of sympathy.

3 stars (out of four)


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