ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
FRANZ LISZT - Années de Pèlerinage


FRANZ LISZT - Années de Pèlerinage - (Complete 2CD-Set) - Louis Lortie (Piano) - 095115166222 - Released: March 2011 - Chandos 10662

Nothing else in piano literature is quite like the Années de Pèlerinage by Franz Liszt. It is orchestral in its scope, intense in its dynamic extremes, poetic in its narrative, and visionary in its emotive content. One moment you're basking in the sun next to a glistening stream, and the next moment you're running for cover to escape the wrath of a storm. One moment you're breathing in the mountain air, and the next you're down in a dark valley. It is like a slide-show presentation, a diaporama if you will, of Liszt's travels through Switzerland and Italy. It is a transcription, in musical notation, of the emotional forces these places impressed on him. And what is truly flabbergasting, is how Liszt managed to compose such a pianistic tour de force out of these images and memories.

It takes a pianist of a very high calibre to undertake the monumental task of not only learning these pieces, but to be able to see past their extreme technical demands and expose their multi-layered facets. Liszt revised these pieces a few times in order to tone down their marked virtuosity, to allow for more emphasis to be placed on musical substance. Although it is following these revisions that he added "Orage" to the Swiss group, and if ever there was a piano work that requires the ultimate in virtuosity, this is it. And nature was not the only source of inspiration for these pieces, as the high emotionalism of that era, present within the pathos of the novel "Obermann" by Sénancour, made its way within the fabric of this music. So who ever performs these pieces, as to do so in such a way as to make us hear, and feel, the sunlight dancing on the water ripples, the clouds drifting effortlessly over the peaks, the danger within the fury of a storm, the blissful life of animals in pasture, the coldness of a cemetery, etc ... without knocking down any of the technical hurdles along the way. I've heard many pianists who would play Orage with one hand tied behind their back, but then would completely overlook the beauty in Vallée d'Obermann. And some that could wring every drop of sentimentality from one piece, but then make Orage sound like an April shower.

Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, whose many previous recordings have always been the recipients of international acclaim, is of that calibre. In this, his first new recording under a renewed contract with Chandos following a short hiatus, he clearly demonstrates that he and the instrument have become one. For example, he beautifully shapes the re-emergence of the main melody at bar 170 of Vallée d'Obermann and scares us with the immense fury he unleashes within Orage. And these are but two examples (I could go on all day) of his captivating, and always lyrical traversal of these monumental works. Another feather in his cap is that he doesn't submit his playing to every minute detail in the score. He liberally alters rests or tempos in some instances to better balance the overall proportions of certain passages. One of the first recordings he made many years ago was of the Deuxième Année: Italie alone. Now, as an added bonus, they are all together. As a matter of fact, very rarely do we get the complete set of these recorded together, as we do in this new recording.

The piano chosen for this recording is an impressive sounding Fazioli grand with a fathomless bottom end, all very well captured in this well engineered 24-bit Chandos recording from November 2010.

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2011