Joseph Moog

Between Heaven & Hell: Liszt

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In the 19th century, Romantic composers often drew inspiration from literary sources, in particular, the plays of Shakespeare and the poetry of Byron, Hugo, and Goethe, whose themes figure prominently in the music of Franz Liszt. Looming large in Liszt's imagination was the Divine Comedy of Dante, which inspired the Dante Symphony, as well as the fantasia quasi sonata, Après une lecture du Dante, from the second book of Années de pélérinage. Joseph Moog has recorded that work, along with a handful of character pieces, such as the Deux Légendes (based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis de Paul), and the sinister Csardas obstinée, in order to illustrate Liszt's fascination with otherworldly subjects and the contest between the diabolical and the divine. Yet the longest and most significant work on the program is the Sonata in B minor, which lacks a specific narrative and can be regarded as absolute music, though religious themes and the Faust legend have sometimes been suggested as underlying programs. Moog's album might have been more thematically consistent if he had included the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, or some of the gloomy late pieces which sort with Liszt's obsession with death and the supernatural. However, for all its turbulence and dark expressions, the Sonata in B minor impresses as a tour de force that Moog plays with high energy and technical brilliance, and even though he brings ample fire to the Sonata, it isn't necessarily hellfire. Onyx's recording offers close-up sound in a resonant space, capturing the full dynamic range without studio enhancements.

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