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Janis: Liszt – Piano Concertos no. 1, 2 (APE)

Janis: Liszt - Piano Concertos no. 1, 2 (APE)
Janis: Liszt – Piano Concertos no. 1, 2 (APE)

Composer: Franz Liszt
Performer: Byron Janis
Orchestra: Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Mercury
Size: 261 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Byron Janis was a pupil of Vladimir Horowitz, and one of the most exciting pianists of his generation. Like his colleague and contemporary, Van Cliburn, he burned out after a brief but brilliant career, much of which was, fortunately, documented in a stunning series of recordings produced by Mercury Living Presence. They are some of the greatest piano discs ever made, and they are all now available on CD. Mercury was the first American label to actually record in the Soviet Union, and these performances of the Liszt piano concertos are one of the few serious rivals to Sviatoslav Richter’s famous Philips versions. If you love this music, you’ll want both. –David Hurwitz

01. Piano Concerto No. 1 In E flat: Allegro maesto
02. Piano Concerto No. 1 In E flat: Quasi Adagio; Allgegretto vivace; Allegro animato
03. Piano Concerto No. 1 In E flat: Allegro marziale animato
04. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Adagio sostenuto assai
05. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Allegro agitato assai
06. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Allegro moderato
07. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Allegro deciso
08. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Marziale un poco meno allegro
09. Piano Concerto No. 2 In A: Allegro animato

10. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6
11. Valse oubliee
12. Schumann: Romance in F sharp
13. Novellette in F
14. Falla: The Miller’s Dance
15. Liszt: Sonetto del Petrarco CIV
16. Guion: The Harmonica Player

Fleet-fingered technique, clean execution and sharp melodic profile

The Horowitz protegé Byron Janis has full measure of this repertoire. We get not only the notes, but also the music embedded in them. Janis gives excellent renditions of the two Liszt chestnuts combining virtuosity and sensitivity; fleet- fingered technique with a sharp melodic profile and great clarity of phrasing. His performances of the encore pieces are absolute gems. Rhythmic suppleness abounds in all of the pieces recorded on this disc. Solid and sympathetic orchestral accompaniments from the Russian orchestras.
An ebullient, atmospheric performance of the Liszt 6th Hungarian Rhapsody. I can’t recall hearing anyone ever render the cimbalom effect in the 6th Hungarian Rhapsody with such panache. The Schumann Romance in F sharp is spellbinding. In the Schumann Novellete in F Janis captures the shifting moods of Eusebius and Florestan in delightful fashion. Janis also excels in delivering the now fervent, now flashy Sonetto del Petrarca. A highly atmospheric and evocative performance of the Miller’s Dance from Falla’s El Sombrero with all its spice. A final delight is Guion’s The Harmonica Player, cheeky and with a saucy throw-away ending.
The CD is of course a remastering of the original Mercury Living Presence LP recording. The original LP issue was recorded using the justly famous Living Presence technique utilizing tube recording equipment, 35 mm magnetic film and strategic microphone placing capturing performances with superior clarity and definition.
The reason why I give the CD only a four-star rating is, however, the acoustic balance in the Liszt concertos. Having heard these performances many years ago, I now find, what is to my ears at least, a slightly strange effect. The piano is captured and projected very much forward. To me at least, the effect is as if the piano and the orchestra were captured on two different sound stages and then the one dubbed onto the other in the post-recording process. (Which, of course, can’t be the case since these are live performances recorded in Moscow.)
It just doesn’t seem like a natural perspective, which is strange given the label’s reputation of reproducing for the listener “the living presence” of an orchestral performance.
There are at least two other excellent performances of the Liszt concertos: one, of course, the legendary performance by Sviatoslav Richter, accompanied by Kiril Kondrashin on Philips, the other a smashing performance (bristling with energy, dynamic and utterly compelling – high octane stuff) by John Ogdon on the BBC Music label accompanied by Constantin Silvestri with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Concerto 1) and by Sir Colin Davis (Concerto 2) conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra: performances that are guaranteed to bowl you over. The disc also includes Ogdon’s performances of Liszt solo piano pieces: Mephisto Waltz No.1, Grande Fantaisie, La Campanella, and Étude d’exécution transcendante, No. 11.

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