60161 Liszt organ works - a comprehensive survey
Although Martin Haselböck’s superb recordings of Liszt’s organ works are available as individual SACDs, they are even better in the newly released complete set - not because the performances themselves are better (they are the same) but because the comprehensive survey of this highly important organ repertoire makes more sense, and possesses more cogency, when heard as a whole. Furthermore, Haselböck’s 45-minute discussion of Liszt’s organ music, on an included DVD, is more coherent and revelatory than the notes he wrote for each of the individual SACDs: those commentaries (which are included in this set in an oversize booklet) tend to get so bogged down in technical and historical details that non-specialists may find them daunting, or at least uninteresting. But no one interested in organ music - or in Liszt - will find Haselböck’s performances less than enthralling. He takes the full measure of some works that are central to the organ repertoire, Liszt having been almost singlehandedly responsible for changing the organ from an instrument for church music only into one that could, in addition to sacred works, be used for extensive secular pieces of style, elegance and virtuosity. On the sacred side stand such outstanding long-form pieces as Requiem (1868-83) and Missa pro Organo (1879), as well as chorales and laments and some rather spare and emotionally desiccated works of Liszt’s later years. On the secular side are works based on Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and Wagner’s Tannhäuser (operas with religious themes but not ones of religion per se); an expansion of parts of Liszt’s own Dante Symphony; and a number of works based on ones by Bach - whose influence loomed large over all Liszt’s organ music. Haselböck’s playing is by turns sensitive, dramatic, controlled, anguished, light-fingered and brilliantly sonorous, as he takes the full measure of each of these pieces while placing them in a context that he explains with care and intelligence on the included DVD. This is scarcely an inexpensive set - although, with the individual SACDs priced at $24.99, it costs little more than the five of them put together - but it is an absolutely crucial one for anyone interested in organ music beyond Bach, and in Liszt’s music beyond virtuosic display and brilliantly nationalistic set pieces. It is, in short, a major achievement, with absolutely top-notch performances of music that, for all its importance, is too rarely heard and has never before been given such a fully realized and thoroughly thoughtful rendition.