Am stillen Herd aus Meistersinger; Spinnerlied aus Der fliegende Holländer; Pilgerchor aus Tannhäuser; O du, mein holder Abendstern aus Tannhäuser; Einzug der Gäste auf der Wartburg aus Tannhäuser; Elsas Brautzug zum Münster aus Lohengrin; Isoldes Liebestod aus Tristan und Isolde.
Albumblatt für Frau Betty Schott. Albumblatt bei den Schwarzen Schwänen. Albumblatt ‘In das Album der Fürstin M.’
Asher Fisch (pn)
MELBA 301141 (67:07)
Asher Fisch’s new CD of seven of Liszt’s 15 Wagner transcriptions, along with three Wagner album leaves, has a relaxed, appealingly improvisatory quality. This approach seems particularly apt in the
transcription, where Liszt treats Walter’s first act aria, “Am stillen herd,” with a blithe freedom that exults in the exquisite melodic contours and harmonic turns of the original. Fisch no doubt prudently shies away from the formidable
overture transcription (a work that, according to Bülow, caused even Liszt himself considerable problems), choosing instead the relatively straightforward setting of the “Pilgrim’s Chorus.” “The Entrance of the Guests into the Wartburg” is particularly successful. Beautifully paced, it captures the excitement and anticipation of the throng before the song contest. The most famous and beloved of Liszt’s operatic transcriptions, the “Liebestod,” moves from beginning to end with a convincing assurance.
Yet when all is said and done, one is left wondering why this CD was made in the first place. Fisch is, after all, a conductor of significant achievement. He made his U.S. debut in 1995 with the Los Angeles Opera, and has since conducted at the Met, Chicago Lyric, and Houston operas, in addition to the symphony orchestras of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Houston, and St. Louis. This is without considering his career in Europe and Australia. With the ability to realize these pieces in their original form—with singers and orchestra on the operatic stage—what motivates someone to record their equivalent on the piano?
And sadly, despite Fisch’s undeniable ability to get around the keyboard, he lacks the technique to do these pieces full justice.
s often become brittle, pedaling seems unsure and, on occasion, the line is maintained with difficulty, when it is maintained at all. “Elsa’s Bridal Procession,” apart from some misreading of the harmonies, threatens to lose its way before reaching the cathedral. Fisch would have done well to observe Liszt’s optional cut of the recitative preceding Wolfram’s “O, du mein holder Abendstern,” since any idea of the text in the recitative is lost in this flat, desultory reading. Dynamic contrasts are frequently overlooked. In the “Spinning Chorus” from
, for instance, Liszt marks a series of ascending arpeggios successively
ff, pp, mf crescendo,
Here they come off as alternating between
. In place of Liszt’s shimmering evocations of Wagnerian magic, we have performances that seem bland, a bit smug, and all too literal.
Fisch’s extensive booklet essay, though engaging, can be jarringly misleading. He states that most of Liszt’s “paraphrases” (the word he uses interchangeably for all works Liszt transcribed for piano from other media) were written for his own recitals. This of course excludes those transcriptions written after 1847, the year Liszt retired from the concert stage, a sizeable number of works spanning almost four decades and, incidentally, including everything recorded here. Elsewhere we read, “Musicologists strongly believe that the ‘Tristan Chord’ is actually Liszt’s invention and was later plagiarized by Wagner.” Not to denigrate Liszt’s singular achievements in the realm of harmonic innovation, but musicologists haven’t believed this, strongly or otherwise, for a good quarter century. Rena Mueller’s work with the manuscript sources established that a passage in the 1844 song,
Ich möchte hingehn
, long held to anticipate the “Tristan Chord” by a decade, in fact dates from a later revision of the song, and therefore alludes to, rather than anticipates
Most remarkable is reading that Liszt championed Wagner, who was “then living in exile in Switzerland following a scandalous affair in Dresden.” Surely this is the first time that the revolutions sweeping Europe in 1848-49, or the revolutionary political activities that led to Wagner’s flight, have been characterized as “a scandalous affair.”
Fortunately, for superb realizations of Liszt’s Wagner paraphrases, one needn’t look far. Michele Campanella recorded them all (Brilliant Classics 94147/1-6), while Stephen Mayer’s recording of five of them, including the
overture, also includes the overture to Weber’s