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In the summer of 1838 Liszt and the Countess moved to Lake Lugano, where Dante and Petrarch featured in their reading. Supreme lyric poet, Petrarch showed the way to Liszt not only with his artistry and incomparable celebration of the elusive Laura but in taking minor orders at Avignon, which imposed no obligations but provided benefices and canonries. Liszt's three 'Sonnets' were originally conceived as songs, and No 104 contains the passionate contrasts of Petrarch's poetry, declarations of love and despair such as the Lugano pair were experiencing at the time. The middle section shows Liszt the virtuoso getting into his stride [listen -- track 5, 2:37-3:41]. But nothing in these pieces touches the dazzling pianism of the 'Dante' sonata. Maybe at Lugano the remarkable pair ended their reading with the 'Inferno'. That was my experience when stricken with measles at school, and I await the leisure to proceed further. The works on the disc were not published for some twenty years, by which time Liszt had put his amazing gifts towards raising a Beethoven statue at Bonn. After an opening based on ponderous tritones, traditionally the 'diabolus in musica', the first subject settles to a lamentoso depiction of the souls in hell. Their wailing rises to a pitch of terrifying intensity [listen -- track 7, 1:36-2:49].

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Copyright © 18 December 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


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