Richard Wagner is often cited as the chief innovator of chromatic harmony in late Romantic music, mostly because of his tonally ambiguous Prelude to Tristan und Isolde. Yet the strongest influence on Wagner's harmonic ideas came from Franz Liszt, who ventured further afield than Wagner dared to go. Imogen Cooper's 2017 release on Chandos explores a group of piano works by Liszt, as well as the transcription of Wagner's Prelude to Tristan und Isolde by Zoltán Kocsis, and Liszt's arrangement of the Liebestod, and the program demonstrates the use of unresolved dissonances to create atmosphere and heighten tension. Compare Liszt's Nuages gris with Wagner's Elegie to hear the similarity of approach, and sample La lugubre gondola I and the Bagatelle sans tonalité to hear Liszt go to the far edge of tonality. Somewhat subtler in effect are the Valse Oubliée No. 2, Gretchen (transcribed by Liszt from his Faust Symphony), and the Four Pieces from Années de Pélerinage, Deuxième Année: Italie, which still reflect conventional tonality but share the ambiguity of the rest of the pieces in their subtle use of chromaticism and harmonic coloration. Cooper's playing is suitably delicate and restrained, and she avoids Liszt's flashier displays of virtuosity to emphasize his reflective and darker side. Chandos' recording is clear and reasonably close, with natural resonance.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième Année: Italie', S 161|
|'Tristan und Isolde', WWV 90|