Franz Liszt Organworks


Even though Franz Liszt is known as a talented organist, his compositions for organ had a long going ill reputation of being too non-traditional both instrumentally and in terms of composition. Even Liszt himself considered his work something which did not reach the 'common taste' of the 'big audience', maybe because he focussed mainly on 'transcription and paraphrasing'. And he sure was keen on big success. For any organ player, Liszt's works prove to be a thicket of interpretative challenges and those of taste: in the past, his organ music was labelled 'decadence music' by many critics. One reason for this may be a matter of technique, for Liszt's great fuge over Ad nos, ad salutarem undam could for the first time only be presented on a CD. To present organ music on historical instruments is not only an artistic challenge for any organ player - it is a physical one as well. But since organs from the 19th century have long been declared worth preserving and new instruments also incorporate instrument technology from back in the days, the time of organ ideologues has come to its end: Liszt is now again part of the common organ repertoire. Nevertheless, Liszt's scintillating compositions will always be a challenge for any interpreter anxious for a complete interpretation which, at the same time, does not overextends the audience's patience.

Not only due to his famous name, Martin Haselböck plays an important role in Austria's organ scene. Last year, he recorded a second SACD on Friedrich Ladegast's organ in Köthen's St. Jakob which contrasts three of Listz's larger organ works (B-A-C-H, Weinen-Klagen, Evocation) with two smaller ones (Orpheus and Les Morts). Thanks to his undoubted technical and interpretative skills, Haselböck overcomes the indicated problems in a blink, backed by a perfect recording of the to be refurnished instrument. The current state of the organ is actually a plus, for it adds to the morbid charm of the compositions. Compared to Merseburg, the cathedral in Köthen leads a lot drier sound which adds to the consequent transparency of Haselböcks articulation, phrasing and agogic. Haselböck is working brilliantly with the features of Liszt's setting and therefore creates a natural interpretative flow, even improving on the less outstanding parts and ideas of the composition: he even turns Orpheus, in my view one of the most 'schmaltzy' composition on organ literature, into a piece of music which has to be taken seriously, with nothing left to explain due to his pitoresque style. Oraison: Les Morts has been considered 'hospital music' by Liszt himself, but Haselböck uses his romantic instrument to brilliantly add to the quality of the music, giving this piece that Liszt wanted to be played on his funeral rather thrilling qualities.

In short: Haselböck merges instrument, composition and location beautifully into a coherent identity. The technical aspects of the recording are brilliant without dominating the overall impression. You cannot expect more from a Liszt recording, but it takes a lot to reach this degree of mastery. Since even the liner notes are brilliantly written, highlighting interesting aspects of Liszt's organ works, this recording has definitely to be considered the benchmark of Liszt's organ music interpretation and should definitely be heard by everyone, especially those who rather disliked Liszt up until now.
Klassik-heute (engl.) 01.01.2005