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Formidable Pianism

Beethoven arranged
by Liszt -
heard by

'... Baglini's extraordinary achievement for Decca.'

Beethoven - Baglini. © 2009 Universal Classics and Jazz

Against all the odds, keyboard transcriptions of orchestral works are again modish, not so much on the drawing-room piano as on CD. Nor is the reason far to seek. Conductors great and small have squeezed the repertoire dry. There is not the slightest point in producing yet another recorded version of the Beethoven symphonies. Far cheaper and rather more entertaining to hire a lone pianist and see what he can make of the standard fare. With his versions of the Beethoven nine Liszt hoped to spread knowledge of the originals. Now we are simply enthralled to hear how successfully a crack pianist can pretend to be both Liszt and an orchestra.

Of course the problem with the 'Choral' Symphony is the voices themselves. At one point Liszt despaired of incorporating them into his arrangement and told his publisher he would end with the Adagio molto. Breitkopf demurred, and Liszt compromised by placing the vocal parts above his arrangement of the orchestra. Maurizio Baglini, the pianist of this monumental challenge, tried out the Liszt compromise, but then decided to go it alone. If we so wish, we can cry out 'Nicht diese töne', 'Freude' and 'Millionen' at appropriate moments, or simply listen in awed silence to Baglini's extraordinary achievement for Decca.

In the first movement, so much of it bleak and grey, nothing is more astonishing than the start of the recapitulation, where the forceful establishment of D major is harbinger of ultimate triumph. Baglini makes of this a staggering moment of illumination.

Listen -- Beethoven, arranged Liszt: Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
(track 1, 8:28-10:17) © 2009 Universal Classics and Jazz

On the whole it is the faster music that takes most kindly to the keyboard, so the Scherzo is an unqualified success, and one can imagine Liszt himself darting fleetly over his instrument at the start of the movement.

Listen -- Beethoven, arranged Liszt: Molto Vivace (Symphony No 9)
(track 2, 0:00-1:25) © 2009 Universal Classics and Jazz

With the finale recitatives, it is impossible to tell in this version what belongs to the voice and what to the lower strings. Either way the din of the opening must somehow be dismissed.

Listen -- Beethoven, arranged Liszt: Fourth Movement (Symphony No 9)
(track 4, 0:00-1:50) © 2009 Universal Classics and Jazz

But again it is the tenor solo march through upper air that suits the piano best, no less than Beethoven's wondrous contrapuntal continuation on orchestra alone.

Listen -- Beethoven, arranged Liszt: Fourth Movement (Symphony No 9)
(track 4, 11:04-13:04) © 2009 Universal Classics and Jazz

It does not need Baglini's advocacy to prove the Ninth Symphony a great work; but it is good to be reminded of Liszt's devotion to it (he conducted it ten times at Weimar), and to appreciate Baglini's skill in recapturing so much of Liszt's formidable pianism.

Copyright © 29 August 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt








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