Wednesday, 24 August 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2016)

LISZT Mephisto Waltzes etc
Apex 2564 67410-2 / ****1/2

The piano music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) has been celebrated for its Janus-like qualities. Juxtaposing the diabolical with the sacred in music paralleled his personal life of sinner-turned-penitent, a self-styled “pop star” virtuoso in his youth who spent his later years as an Abbe and sage. 

This recording by French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris eloquently illustrates these diametrically opposed views, opening with the sublime Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude (Blessing of God in Solitude), where the spiritually serene and rapturous come together as never before.

Then follows the four Mephisto Waltzes, of which the First is the most often performed. Here the “evil” interval of the tritone (once referred to as “diabolus in musicus” and banned by the Vatican) is flaunted with wild abandon in a series of unbridled and frenzied dances. 

The rarely-heard Mephisto Polka and near-atonal Bagatelle Sans Tonalite are inserted as sinister miniatures, but the palate is cleansed with the Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, a grand treatise on the passacaglia form which concludes with the reassuring strains of a Bach chorale. Katsaris' pianistic journey from Hades to Paradise is absorbing and exhausting, and one to be savoured.  

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