Liszt: Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) – First Year, Switzerland; Legend No 2 (St Francis of Paola walking on the waves); Package includes DVD of documentary film by Bruno Monsaingeon (Years of Pilgrimage only)

Reviewed on Fri 26 Oct, 2018

Here is a pianist who combines virtuosity with refined thinking ... Piemontesi never vulgarizes the music or plays to the gallery. He is a musician through and through.

Among the highlights of this superb programme is Francesco Piemontesi’s ennobling account of the second of Liszt’s two Légendes, ‘St Francis of Paola walking on the waves’ – the current often overwhelmingly strong, but when the music’s more prayerful elements set in, the effect is truly uplifting. Here is a pianist who combines virtuosity with refined thinking. The DVD half of the package, masterminded by filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon, is fascinating in that it includes commentary by the pianist on this First Book of Years of Pilgrimage, most interestingly about the structure of the Book’s biggest piece by far, ‘Vallée d’Obermann’, its key motive and the central ‘Orage’ (thunderstorm). The piece of that name epitomizes Liszt the lion of the keyboard, but while Piemontesi has the arms, wrists and fingers for the job, he never vulgarizes the music or plays to the gallery. He is a musician through and through. On the DVD each piece is prefaced by a quote from Byron or Schiller (at Liszt’s own suggestion); there are vivid Alpine scenes and, in the case of ‘Orage’, a humbling lightning strike on the near edge of the music’s opening. Also worthy of note is that each piece is prefaced, on the DVD, by its opening motive played on what sound like alpine horns, sometimes bending the note à la Britten’s Serenade. Movements like ‘Au bord d’une source’ (Beside a Spring) are as flowing and delicate as their more assertive companions are impassioned. First-rate in every respect, sound-wise as well.
–Rob Cowan