Franz Liszt Harmonies du Soir (feat. Piano: Nelson Freire) Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A Liszt recital that will linger in the memory long after the last notes.

Andrew McGregor 2011

Sometimes lightening does strike twice in pretty much the same place. One of the finest new recordings for Chopin’s 200th anniversary in 2010 was from Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, whose two-disc set of Chopin’s Nocturnes for Decca revealed a magical combination of introspective beauty, subtle shadows and radiant colour. And he’s done it again – I’ll be very surprised indeed if Freire’s new recital isn’t counted as one of the best new recordings for Franz Liszt’s 200th birthday year.

But it’s a different kind of tribute to a different sort of pianist-composer, although you only need to pick out one or two of Liszt’s Six Consolations, or the impressionistic etude Harmonies du Soir – which lends its title to this recital – to hear a delicacy and sensuous application of colour that could have come from Freire’s Chopin disc. But the sheer range of his pianism here is thrilling, as he embraces works from almost the full width of Liszt’s career – and whatever they throw at him, he seems equal to the challenge, elegantly poised even in the bold rhetoric of the B minor Ballade, with its tempestuous cascades. Freire has the gift of seeming to slip inside the skin of every piece here, never distracted by surface glitter or showmanship as he seeks the musical truth, whether in the picture postcard beauty of the Lake of Wallenstadt from the Swiss Years of Pilgrimage, or the unrequited passion at the heart of the Petrarch Sonnet 104 from the Italian tour.

Freire’s chosen one of the lesser-known Hungarian Rhapsodies, No. 3, and displays perhaps unexpected delicacy as he allows it to unfold from its baritonal opening declamation – rhapsodic it certainly is, and so different from the glittering nostalgia of late Liszt in his 1st Valse oubliée, which is somehow urgent and yet regretful – a hesitant upbeat to the opening rumble of the Ballade. The piano sound is a touch brittle and claustrophobic, but it draws us into Freire’s special, self-effacing artistry, and a Liszt recital that will linger in the memory long after the last notes, and the anniversary year, have faded away.

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