Liszt Letdown

Despite the pairing of Barenboim and Boulez, there's nothing here that separates it from the pack.

Composer: Liszt

Repertoire: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, Consolation No.3, Valse Oubliée No.1

Artists: Daniel Barenboim (pf), Staatskapelle Berlin/ Pierre Boulez
Rating: 3/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: Deutsche Grammophon 4779521 

The Music: Soloist and conductor get top billing for this pairing of Liszt’s two piano concertos in live performances on a full-price disc lasting under 50 minutes, fleshed out with a couple of brief solo encores.

The Performance: ‘A rare summit meeting... this harmony between Titans was a godsend’ gushes a review quoted on the CD cover. ‘Both old masters liberated Liszt from the image of glittering virtuosity and revealed the concertos’ poetic depths.’ What nonsense. Just because Barenboim and (86-year-old) Boulez have decided to perform these two works for the first time in their distinguished careers does not guarantee revelations or fresh insights. While the recording has a lovely resonance and the strings have a suave, burnished quality, the piano’s audible pedal action, less than perfect coordination between soloist and orchestra and some decidedly clunky moments (try 3’32” in Concerto No.2’s first movement) do not a top choice make. 

The Verdict: There is much fine playing from soloist and orchestra. Of course there is. But there are a dozen other versions that convey with far more conviction, precision and sheer joy the reasons for the enduring popularity of these works. 

Want More? Look no further than another new recording of both concertos from Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton (Hyperion, CDA 67824).