Saturday, April 15, 2017

Franz Liszt - Dante Symphony; Dante Sonata (Daniel Barenboim)


Composer: Franz Liszt
  1. Eine Symphonie zu Dante’s Divina Commedia, S. 109: I. Inferno
  2. Eine Symphonie zu Dante’s Divina Commedia, S. 109: II. Purgatorio
  3. Eine Symphonie zu Dante’s Divina Commedia, S. 109: Magnificat
  4. Années de pèlerinage II - Italie, S. 161: 7. Après une lecture du Dante. Fantasia quasi Sonata

Rundfunkchor Berlin (1-3)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1-3)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor (1-3) & piano (4)

Date: 1985 (4), 1992
Label: Teldec



This disc completely outclasses the Praga coupling (with Gerd Albrecht in the Symphony and Milan Langer in the Sonata) which I cautiously recommended in March, and proves conclusively that the Dante Symphony (a contemporary of the Faust Symphony) is no longer one that needs its apologists.

Tone, full and rounded, firm and true, and rock-steady pacing elevate the Symphony's opening (''Abandon all hope, ye who enter here'') beyond its all too familiar resemblance to a third-rate horror-film soundtrack. As the Symphony progresses, together with the countless examples of Berlin tone and artistry filling out, refining or shaping gestures in often revelatory ways, you become aware of Barenboim's skill in maintaining the large-scale tension he has created. And that is a very real achievement. In the past, not even the Symphony's greatest admirer could put hand on heart and deny the awkward moments and longeurs in Liszt's grand design (longueurs that tempted Albrecht into what now appear to be fussy excisions). As for the final choral Magnificat, if Liszt owed Wagner a debt of gratitude for persuading him to conclude the Symphony with the ''noble and softly soaring'' bars that precede a more noisily affirmative appended coda, in Barenboim's Magnificat (and much else in the Symphony), it is Wagner's debt to Liszt that is more readily apparent. With the Berlin Schauspielhaus transformed into the Grail Castle, and the solo voice somewhere up in the 'dome', the Parsifalian radiance of these final pages is unmistakable. More importantly, for once they sound convincingly conclusive.

The Symphony—in spacious, focused and expertly balanced sound—was recorded live, though you would never guess from the immaculate execution and silent audience. The Sonata was recorded without an audience in the Neues Schloss in Bayreuth, with the kind of risk-taking abandon and occasionally less than perfect execution that you might have expected from a live event. Improvisatory, impulsive and full of extreme contrasts, Barenboim's Dante Sonata is vividly pictorial (with almost orchestral colourings). In the best Lisztian tradition, the instrument itself (closely miked and widely spaced) sounds larger than life and momentarily under strain from the pounding. This is, in a word, riveting.

-- John Steane, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: ****
MusicWeb International  BARGAIN OF THE MONTH


Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886) was a prolific 19th-century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, music teacher, arranger, organist, philanthropist, author, nationalist and a Franciscan tertiary. Liszt gained renown in Europe for his virtuosic skill as a pianist and in the 1840s he was considered to be the greatest pianist of all time. As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent composers of the "New German School". Some of his most notable musical contributions were the invention of the symphonic poem, developing the concept of thematic transformation as part of his experiments in musical form, and making radical departures in harmony.


Daniel Barenboim (born 15 November 1942) is an Argentine-born pianist and conductor who is a citizen of Argentina, Israel, Palestine and Spain. He is general music director of the Berlin State Opera, and the Staatskapelle Berlin; he previously served as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris and La Scala in Milan. Barenboim is known for his work with the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians, and as a resolute critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.


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