Music and Vision homepage




Liszt transcriptions in performance - a London début recital,


The transcription for Liszt was a natural mode of expression, so much so that many of his transcriptions are perceived as original piano works. This is particularly so of his self-transcriptions but also of the works of his contemporaries, witness the Années de Pélerinage II -- Italie -- and Supplement, works composed in 1839 and revised in 1859. The Petrarch Sonnets 104 and 123 originated as songs, and it is their vocal character, the shape of the melody, the free recitative-like passages, and the supple dialogue of textural layers that distinguishes them from original piano works, and yet which make the piano versions so eloquent. Such Lied-like qualities were displayed in beguiling interpretations by the Russian pianist Maria Asseeva, who devoted the second half of her London début recital, at St John's Smith Square on 6 April 2001, to Liszt.

The wistful elegiac moods of the Sonnets, were conveyed with just the right balance of outward expression and gesture, and delicate tonal control. Liszt's arrangement of Schumann Widmung flowed with yearning, delicate at first, building to passionate outpouring in the final chordal strophe. Miss Asseeva plays with conviction, from the heart, unfettered by barlines, which well suited the ravishing cantabile of Liszt's Liebesträume No 3, a work which, perhaps due to its great popularity, is often avoided in recital programmes, and consequently infrequently played! There were subtle nuances within the piano's appealing sonority to convey the luminescence of Liszt's song (another transcription). To conclude came the fiery Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli, with its myriad exuberant, even witty, transformations of the nocturne-like Canzona Napolitana (Liszt never in fact visited Naples, though he frequented Venice), and if there might have been a little more grotesquerie in some passages, the climax was fizzing.

Also outstanding was the seldom played Dumka Op 59 by Tchaikovsky (much of his solo piano music is neglected still), in which Miss Asseeva seemed most at home, the essential Russian folk spirit of the melancholy melody, its oft repeated patterns with intriguing harmonisations flowing with ease and character. With her rich, warm tone and often dramatic emphasis, Maria Asseeva is a direct inheritor of the Russian school, a grand student of Ginsborg, via Jacob Milstein (brother of the violinist Nathan) and a host of well-known teachers. Currently she is director of piano department of the Musical Society of Nigeria and has just released an all-Chopin CD (Hurstwood Farm label) including Chopin's Four Ballades, which here formed the centrepiece of the first half of her recital. While she displayed admirable panache in the two outer works, and poetic reverie of the F major Ballade, I felt the rhythmic fluctuations of the A flat Ballade were slightly jarring as also was a slightly hard edged tone at moments of heightened tension, though moments of beauty were plentiful. As a delightful encore Chopin's Ecossaise affirmed her pianistic qualities. One hopes to hear more of Maria Asseeva in future.

Copyright © 10 April 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




 << Music & Vision home           Neglected Haydn >>