After hearing Franz Liszt play the piano, the famous conductor Sir Charles Hallé remarked: “Such marvels of executive skill and power, I could never have imagined.”
Liszt was perhaps the first “rock star” of classical music. His flamboyant and dramatic style of performance combined with his stunning physique was said to cause people to swoon. Liszt was the first musician to play the piano on stage seated with his profile to the audience (all the better for the ladies to admire his good-looks), and the first to have his solo concerts referred to as “recitals.”
Martin Bookspan calls Sviatoslav Richter’s performance with conductor Kirill Kondrashin of the Piano Concerto Number One by Franz Liszt “one of the great recordings of the [20th] century.” That performance remains available on several different CDs, including one that pairs both the First and Second Piano Concertos by Liszt. I reviewed Lise de la Salle’s 2008 recording of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto for a “Sound Advice” feature on the CapRadio News program “Insight.” Based on what this young musician has done so far, de la Salle is destined to one of the great pianists of the 21st century. The CD also includes fantastic performances of the First Piano Concerto by Shostakovich and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto Number One. Highly recommended!
If I were limited to only using one word to describe the symphonies of Gustav Mahler that word would have to be “passionate.” Critics of Mahler’s music in his day and even now have found his symphonies to be too wildly passionate and excessively emotional. I will admit there is a good case to be made for that view. However, Mahler speaks to my personal sensibilities; I find his symphonies to be a wonderful expression of life with all its triumphs and failures, with all its happiness and suffering.
Martin Bookspan lists Mahler’s First, Fourth and Ninth Symphonies as three of his “101 Masterpieces.” For Mahler’s First he recommends a recording from Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra. For Mahler’s Fourth his choice is Solti conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. And Leonard Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic gets the nod for Bookspan’s preferred Mahler Ninth performance. All of these fine recordings are currently available.
Of the more recent recorded performances of Mahler’s First available I would opt for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop (who was once a Bernstein protégé). The recording of the Fourth Symphony by Mahler from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony with soprano Laura Claycomb is by all accounts a triumph. And for the profound and extraordinarily spiritual Ninth Symphony by Mahler, which indeed takes the Romantic style of composition into the realm of 20th century modern music, I think you will greatly enjoy the recording made by conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.
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