Vivid and viscerally exciting, Kurt Masur's performances with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester of Franz Liszt's symphonic poems may be considered streamlined modern interpretations: lean and propulsive, with only a nod here and there to sentimentality and lushness. Listeners may respond positively to Masur's brisk, no-nonsense tempi, and the orchestra's clarified textures and distinctive timbres. These muscular, finely detailed performances of Les Préludes, Mazeppa, Tasso, and Orpheus are great improvements over many older, traditional renditions, which wallowed in the Romantic excesses of exaggerated rubato and murky, over-blended orchestration. Yet Liszt's bombast is still glaringly present in his climaxes, and this is incurable; despite Masur's quickened, no-nonsense pacing, the triumphant endings of Tasso and Les Préludes still sound garish and grotesque, and one can only be grateful that they are not drawn out any longer than necessary. Recorded in analog and digitally remastered, this 1987 compilation suffers somewhat from the thin sound of early digital engineering and the boosted audio overcompensates; as a result, the volume must be lowered to a comfortable middle level.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson