On its face, this CD is a real curiosity because Daniel Barenboim offers his first-ever recordings of Franz Liszt's two piano concertos, and Pierre Boulez leads the Berlin Staatskapelle in performances that would have been unimaginable when these artists were younger. Barenboim, a subtle intellectual at the keyboard, is one of the last pianists one would envision playing the flashy, virtuosic parts of these works, while Boulez, once the supposed enemy of all things Romantic, seems to have yielded at last to the attractions of Liszt's vision and conceded that these grandiose warhorses contain music of considerable merit. This is no doubt due to a long-in-coming critical reassessment of Liszt's place in the canon. Since the late 20th century, his music has been increasingly understood as a precursor to modernism, and it is presumably easier to reconcile with Barenboim's and Boulez's earlier reservations. Still, listeners will care more about the quality of the performances, and it must be said that there's a precision in the execution that is predictable for both musicians, and the expression leans more to the reflective side of Liszt, rather than to technical wizardry. For connoisseurs who can appreciate the refinement of Barenboim's playing, and the rather unsentimental, efficient approach of Boulez's accompaniment, this is a worthwhile album that presents the concertos and two solo encores in live performances that will satisfy. The microphone is quite close to Barenboim, so everything is captured with realistic presence, including the thumping of the pianist's feet.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125|
|Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S. 124|