ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Liszt - Sonata in B minor


FRANZ LISZT - Sonata in B minor - Fantasy and Fugue on the choral "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" - Garrick Ohlsson (Piano) - 090404933721 - Released: February 2011 - Bridge 9337

October 22, 2011, will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt. What better way is there for a pianist of Garrick Ohlsson's stature to mark the occasion then to release a recording of one of the landmarks of piano music, the Sonata in B minor. The long list of pianistic giants who have recorded this work is impressive, with very recent additions including Berezovsky, Vogt, Gerstein and Hamelin. Garrick Ohlsson is stepping into hallowed territory indeed. The Sonata in B minor was composed in 1853, about twelve years after Liszt's focus shifted from writing almost strictly for the piano, to vocal and orchestral compositions. The orchestral influence on the sonata is tangible and pianist's who undertake it should approach it in that context. The long lines, the massive chords, the wide dynamics, the thematic thread that unifies the piece from beginning to end, the one-movement form, etc ... all of these elements come together to create a musical work that transcends the physical instrument used to perform it. Liszt perceived, within musical romanticism, the potential for the seven octaves of the piano to equal, if not surpass, what had previously been done by a full battalion of orchestral musicians, and that the pianist had become an independent and supreme ruler of his domain.

Garrick Ohlsson delivers a formidable interpretation, in which he deploys his forces strategically, and clearly defines the main motif, the 'idée fixe' of this work, from start to finish. Notice how he shapes and moulds those wonderful chords of the main theme at the 3:45 mark of the first movement Lento, Allegro energico. His interpretation lets the music breathe. Lets the music happen. The musical drama unfolds so naturally, so effortlessly, that you sometimes lose sight of the instrument and simply lose yourself in the music. Something that rarely happens in piano recordings. The Andante sostenuto movement under Ohlsson is a dream made real. It sets everything up for the fury unleashed in the final movement, and even here Ohlsson keeps the work's main drive front and center. The sublime coda, those last few soft and distant chords, have never seemed this touching before. The Fantasy and Fugue on the choral "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam", an organ work transcribed for piano by Ferruccio Busoni, compliments the Sonata very well and rounds out the CD perfectly. Its slow Agagio movement is beautiful, and here again gets Ohlsson's complete immersion into its masterful unfolding.

The Bösendorfer Imperial Grand sounds, well, Imperial. Despite the handful of buzzy notes here and there (sometimes caused by the way the damper pedal is controlled) it is perfect for this grand sonata. It's almost orchestral in its rich tones and dynamic range, and Bridge Records have done a great job of capturing all of that, in a powerful and tangible recording.

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2011