Jenny Lin / Adam Tendler

Liszt: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses

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Liszt: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses Review

by James Manheim

Pianists Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler are known mostly for contemporary experimental music and hardly at all for Liszt. Steinway & Sons doesn't make clear how this recording came about, but the pair maintained their avant-garde cred by performing the music at a cemetery. The Harmonies poétiques et religieuses are not heard terribly often. They are an unwieldy set of ten large pieces, and for the most part, they don't have the thundering virtuosity Liszt's audiences look for; inspired by poems of Alphonse de Lamartine (and in some cases reworked from other pieces, including choral music of Palestrina), they have even more of an improvisatory flavor than is the norm for Liszt. Unusually, Lin and Tendler divide the ten works in the cycle between themselves. However, they deliver a coherent set. Lin is perhaps a bit more deliberate on the whole, but there's no lurch between the contributions of the two pianists. As one might expect, these are not gate-storming Liszt performances and not exceptionally dramatic ones. One could wish for a spookier beginning, for instance, to the fourth piece, which goes back to a highly experimental Liszt composition of 1834, but Lin and Tendler set out instead to capture the strangeness of the music, its modernity, which was considerable in 1847, when Liszt completed the set, and even greater in 1834. Their performances are interior, moody, mysterious, and they revel in the music's variety and its exploratory quality. Moreover, in these lengthy and somewhat unconnected pieces, their energy does not flag. The Steinway Hall sound is, as usual, exceptionally good, and one hopes for more work from either or both of these forward-thinking pianists on this label, which has presented 19th century piano music in consistently fresh ways.

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