60146 - Virtuosity is subservient to content

Liszt: Organ Works, Volume 3
4 stars (out of 4)
The Infodad Team
Infodad.com, November 12, 2009

Virtuosity is subservient to content as well in Martin Haselböck’s remarkable cycle of Liszt’s organ music. The provenance of these works is frequently complex – Liszt would often tweak others’ organ arrangements of his music, or sometimes alter them substantially, instead of creating them himself from the start – but the historical details are of less interest than the works themselves. The longest of the 11 pieces included in the third volume of this series is Prelude, Fugue and Magnificat from the Symphony to Dante’s “Divina Commedia” (1856-60), begun by Liszt’s assistant, Alexander Wilhelm Gottschalg, then substantially altered by Liszt himself. This is, in fact, Liszt’s largest individual arrangement for the organ, and it is a work of towering strength – with an especially impressive fugue (the portion on which Liszt did the most work). Also here are the 1859 version of “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” whose 1862 version Haselböck played in Volume 2 of this series, and Ora Pro Nobis (1865), a work of comparative simplicity and delicacy that makes an effective contrast. Two Wagner-focused pieces appear as well: Pilgrim’s Chorus from “Tannhäuser” (second version, 1862), whose surface simplicity conceals a very artful arrangement, and Am Grabe Richard Wagners (At the Grave of Richard Wagner) (1883), a heartfelt and intimate work whose expressiveness is heightened by inclusion of some Wagnerian motifs. The other works on this disc – whose somewhat disconnected arrangement is its only significant failing – are “A Magyarok Istene” (Hungary’s God) (1881), one of several arrangements Liszt made of a revolutionary poem; Excelsior! – Preludio (1874), one of whose themes Wagner used in Parsifal in 1882; Resignazione (1877), one of several late works in which Liszt seems to express failure or asceticism; Angelus! – Prière aux Anges Gardiens (also 1877), a somewhat less downbeat piece from the same time period; Agnus Dei from Verdi’s Requiem (another 1877 work), a lovely and simple adaptation; and Der Choral “Nun Danket Alle Gott” (1883), a piece considered inferior to Liszt’s earlier organ works when it was first heard, but one whose incorporation of old church music gives it a certain elegance. Haselböck’s playing is sensitive and involved throughout: this is clearly music that he not only understands well but also cares about very deeply.

Infodat.com 12.11.2009