Yury Martynov

Beethoven/Liszt: Symphonies Nos. 6 et 2

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Franz Liszt's transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies date from different phases of his career. His attitude toward his symphonic transcriptions and other non-pianistic works is difficult to determine: he rarely played such transcriptions in concert, and they may have been at least partly commercial in motivation. But he wrote a great many of them and was plainly interested in the project, furnishing one set of Beethoven publications with a preface (reproduced in the booklet here) in which he proclaims that Beethoven's symphonies "cannot be meditated enough." These transcriptions have occasionally been performed, but this outing by Russian pianist Yury Martynov is a standout. One attraction is the piano: the 1837 Erard is nearly contemporaneous with the transcription of the Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ("Pastoral"), and even for the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, composed in the mid-1860s, it serves well. It's a remarkable instrument, with rich but clear tones in pedaled passages, and it seems uncannily well attuned to Liszt's intentions here. These pieces lie somewhere between transcriptions and interpretations, and, especially in the "Pastoral" rendering, Liszt does not hesitate to omit orchestral details in favor of the larger narrative, often letting density adjustments stand in for those details. Martynov is magical in passages like the fourth-movement storm in the "Pastoral" symphony, where Liszt augments the action with some chromatic rolls in the bass; throughout this symphony he gets fabulous results with the pedal, giving the listener an idea of how Liszt heard Beethoven and also of what a technically startling pianist Liszt himself was. The "Pastoral" seems to shimmer throughout with the Romantic mysticism Beethoven intended, and the entire album is a triumph for the idea of recording 19th-century music on original instruments.

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