<< -- 3 -- Malcolm Miller LISZT ON WAGNER'S STEINWAY
Engel seemed to open up a new aspect of emotional fervour and virtuosity in his thrilling performances of Liszt and Debussy. There is clearly a reciprocal influence between Liszt and Wagner so it was a special treat to hear three Etudes d'execution transcendante, nos 9-11, played in this context, and with fiery leonine dexterity. In 'Ricordanza' the gentle Italianate melody flowed with delicate tracery in contrast to the effortless passagework which Engel intensified to a powerful climax, decorated with buoyant and effervescent filigree. The third piece, 'Harmonies du Soir', was breathtaking, a tour de force in which Liszt's chromaticism and vivid pianistic colours came alive with highly charged vitality and dynamism as well as awe-inspiring silences. Here Engel's steely touch yet emotional warmth were ideally channelled.
Konrad Maria Engel at Wahnfried. Photo © 2005 Malcolm Miller
There was plenty to admire and savour in Debussy's Preludes from Book 2, notably the wit, pizzazz and brilliance, from the Spanish habanera inflections of 'La Puerto del Vino', the mysterious whole tone harmonies of 'Bruyeres' and the sardonic drum rolls of 'General Lavine' to the swirling textures of 'Ondine', and the glittering glissando-filled fountain of sound in 'Feux d'artifice'. Despite the riveting power and momentum, Engel's interpretations here seemed almost too Lisztian in character, lacking a measure of French delicacy and transparency, flexible fluidity replaced at times with some swamping of bass textures; in this he might have been helped by a different piano, one closer in sound to the more ethereal lightness of Debussy's Bluthner with its sympathetic fourth string in the higher register. Nevertheless the beauty of tone and poetic atmosphere of his two encores -- La Cathedrale Engloutie and Ce Que dit Le Vent de L'Ouest affirmed an outstanding pianistic talent and promising artist who deserves wide exposure. One hopes for Engel's début in the UK in the near future.