Beethoven-Liszt Symphony No.7 and Bach-Busoni Chaconne

The two great piano transcriptions contrasted on this record demonstrate the unique range and adaptability of the modern concert-grand. While Busoni’s piano arrangements of Bach’s chaconne for solo violin may be described as a triumph of expression, Liszt’s translation of Beethoven’s Seventh symphony emerges as a tour-de-force of compression. The challenge of conveying its vast contours through the medium of a single instrument is only made possible by Liszt’s unprecedented keyboard daring and acute aural imagination. His arrangement captures the spirit of his most electrifying of symphonies and also illuminates a thousand and one hidden subtleties of details anew.



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Liszt transcribed all of Beethoven's symphonies for piano solo. Each of the nine transcriptions demonstrates Liszt's deep perception of the music and fantastic ingenuity in recasting it for the piano, yet No. 7 probably responds to the process best. Extraordinary demands are made on the player and, at least in the first two movements, they are fully met. There is a tendency to refer to such transcriptions as 'reductions', yet in the initial Vivace and the Allegretto Smith’s interpretation attains to a remarkable symphonic weight and grandeur. This perhaps goes beyond what Liszt, bearing in mind the capacities of the pianos of his time, would have thought possible. As Smith says in his interesting sleeve note, the music is shown in a number of new lights, and by the time the end of the Allegretto is reached one is convinced that this is a valid alternative form of the work.

Despite his omission of the first movement repeat, Smith presents searching interpretative insights. In the scherzo, Smith achieves a true presto and conveys an amazing impression of typical Beethovenian fury, as he does again in the finale, where in the great churning tuttis it seems as if the piano is sounding continuously throughout its entire compass.

Nimbus has a great depth of tone at the start of the Allegretto. It is difficult, indeed, to imagine realistic recording of the piano going far beyond this. Each issue includes a coupling that is in its different way highly apt. Smith's coupling is a magnificent account of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne, which combines an almost orchestral splendour with some nearly uncanny evocations of organ tone. Given the superior recording, this supplants even Rubinstein's 1970 LP performance.

 M. H.

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