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Hello! Liszt is to me one of the greatest piano composer (the greatest when it comes to programme music). So i was wondering ego were your own personal favourite pianists when it comes to this outstanding, magical and enthralling composer?
 

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Krystian Zimerman is a great interpreter of Liszt's music. It's a pity that he hasn't recorded a whole lot of it, but at least he has done the two concertos + Totentanz, the B minor sonata and some other piano works.
 

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Early Brendel, on Vox, believe it or not. Still young and hungry, before his cerebral approach became oppressive, his rendition of Mephisto Waltz No. 1 remains, to date, the most hair-raising I've heard.

Also worthy of mention: Earl Wild, Martha Argerich, Jenő Jandó, Jerome Rose, Louis Lortie
 

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Claudio Arrau without a doubt. He plays Liszt so poetically. Most pianist seems to want to show of their great technique when they play Liszt. But Arrau makes every note sound crystal clear. He brings out the true beauty in the music.
Well said. Arrau brings out the hidden musical depths of Liszt without sacrificing the composer's virtuosity. His Philips recordings were tremendous. It's amazing how big a sound he could bring out of the music, as well as its spiritual dimensions. It seems to rise to the heavens. He gave Liszt his rightful place among the great romantic composers.

'Daniel Barenboim said that Claudio Arrau had a particular sound with two aspects: first a thickness, full-bodied and orchestral, and second an utterly disembodied timbre, quite spellbinding. Sir Colin Davis said: "His sound is amazing, and it is entirely his own... no one else has it exactly that way. His devotion to Liszt is extraordinary. He ennobles that music in a way no one else in the world can."' (wiki)

I believe these 'ennobling' qualities are entirely true...


 

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Great thread of course :p

Ironically I'm honestly not too well versed in differing pianists interpretations of Liszt: Liszt was the first classical composer I REALLY got into a few years ago, but I spent my time familiarising myself with his vast output usually with just one or two performances of most works. These days I still go by this approach as I get to know all of the other composers: I figure diving in deep performance wise will be a kind of second stage.

That all being said, I can mention some personal highlights that have not been mentioned yet. First of all, the greatest musical experience of my life was the first time I heard the Sonata live, played by Marc-Andre Hamelin: a real out of body experience. I wouldn't call him a favourite Liszt pianist though in general: those would be Arrau, Earl Wild, Brendel and Bolet. One performance that stands out to me is this one by Arrau of the Dante Sonata, a work I was extremely ambivalent about before I heard this wonderful reading:


 

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I'm going to have to agree with Georges Cziffra, his recordings are simply transcendental, for me there is no finer Liszt interpreter.

I was a bit let down by many of Leslie Howard's recordings from the huge Hyperion box, many of the works sound a bit flat. Though I am guessing this is an unpopular opinion.
 

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Jorge Bolet, on disc. But Brendel could be surprisingly good (and I heard him play Liszt twice in recital, where he was spellbinding). He recorded one or two excellent Liszt discs on Philips too.

A mention also for Jeno Jando and Leslie Howard, just for making so much of Liszt's oeuvre available.
 

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Bertrand Chamayou recently recorded what has become my favorite Années de pèlerinage.

Nelson Freire’s recording of the concerti with Chailly conducting is also mighty fine.

To echo some suggestions above, I also like Bolet all-around, Arrau for the etudes, and Cziffra, Sr., for the concerti.
 

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To explain why I prefer certain pianists in Liszt--such as Claudio Arrau, above others, I'll have to repeat some of what I wrote on the B minor thread: As mentioned there, I don't overly care for pianists that heavily pound the keys in Liszt, and turn this beautifully imaginative, fantastical, heart-felt music into loud, clangorous, overblown, overheated (often speedy) displays of virtuosic bravura (& ego). There are many evidences that demonstrate such an approach was, for the most part, not how Liszt played his own music (or taught the piano), or how pianists of his inner circle played their teacher's music, either.

For example, I've noticed there is a marked difference between how students of Martin Krause, Liszt's favorite last pupil (& students of students of Krause to some extent) play Liszt, and most every one else (except for other Liszt students). According to one of Krause's prize pupils, Claudio Arrau (who Krause said would be his "masterpiece"), his teacher told him that he should always appear to have greater reserves than were needed in recital. In Arrau's words, Krause taught him that you "shouldn't perform a work in public unless you were able to play it ten times as fast and ten times as loud as it would have to be in performance--that you only gave the feeling of mastery to an audience if you had tremendous reserves of technique, so that it seemed you could play much faster if you wished, or much louder".* In other words, according to Krause, there must be a sense that a pianist can play a piece of music faster and more loudly if they chose to, but that they are holding back and refraining from doing so, in greater service to the content of the music.

Which makes sense to me, because when I encounter pianists that turn Liszt (or Beethoven) into loud, showy displays of virtuosity, invariably I find that they grossly over generalize the emotional & psychological content of the music (often making the music unlistenable). Their piano tone can become ugly and hard to listen to, as well. Therefore, I don't believe that pianists who play Liszt with overly tense hands in order to express such wildly, overheated emotions are playing in a piano tradition that was passed down from Beethoven to Czerny to Liszt, but rather they are doing Liszt and Beethoven's music a disservice.

Clearly, Arrau took Krause's teaching to heart, as I never heard Arrau play Liszt (or Beethoven) too loudly or overly fast (except perhaps once in his famed (& highly emotional) 1968 concert in Santiago, Chile, released by the Music & Arts label). Arrau was even criticized for being too slow, even ponderous at times (which wasn't exclusively a trait of Arrau's later years, either, as is sometimes thought, since Arrau always had a tendency to slow down). Indeed there was always a sense with Arrau's playing that he still had plenty of reserves left, and his Liszt is no exception.

In similarity, another Liszt student, Emil von Sauer told one of his students (in the 1930s) that Liszt wouldn't recognize his music the way it was being played by the "virtuosos" of the day, as they were playing it "too loud and too fast". Sauer's comment appears to be in full accordance with Arrau's view that Liszt's music was largely misunderstood by pianists of the 20th century, who played it primarily as music to show off their virtuosity.

(*Here's a link to the book where Arrau talked about his years studying with Krause, and Liszt playing (in interviews with Joseph Horowitz):

https://www.amazon.com/Arrau-Music-...&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=arrau+in+performance)

Hence, if we put Arrau's views together with Sauer's comment to his student, it would appear that both legendary pianists believed the "big virtuosos" of the 20th century had more or less highjacked Liszt's music and misguidedly turned it into music the composer wouldn't recognize.

Bearing that in mind, the following link is a prime example of the tradition of Liszt playing that I'm talking on about: Emil von Sauer playing Liszt's "Lieberstraum no. 3": only pianists with direct connections to the composer seem to play Liszt like this--notice how beautiful and fantastical Liszt's music becomes when a pianist plays it with relaxed hands, and never overly fast and loud. Indeed there is only one brief passage where Sauer comes close to using his reserves, and it is appears to be quite deliberately chosen by him as the one 'heated' climax of the work (which reminds me of Bruno Walter's advice that there is only one climax in every symphony):


Hearing Sauer play Liszt, I begin to more strongly suspect that Krause's advice to Arrau came directly from Liszt himself.

Here's another Liszt student, Moriz Rosenthal, playing the same piece:


Now compare the spell-binding tranquility and restraint of Sauer & Rosenthal's Liszt to how Liszt's "Bénédiction de dieu dans la solitude", & other pieces from his "Harmonies poétiques et religieuses", come off on a Eduard Steingraeber 1873, Bayreuth (named "Piano Liszt"), as played by pianist Andrea Bonatta: while bearing in mind that Liszt composed in Sonata in B minor some 20 years earlier, in 1853-54:


Indeed, when a pianist approaches Liszt more quietly, that is, with less forceful slamming of the keys, the music can become something quite fantastical, imaginative, philosophical, artistic, literary, thoughtful, dreamy, transcendental, and spiritual, and it is also (except where the music climaxes) incredibly delicate and nuanced music. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often, as I tend to agree with Arrau that the big virtuosos of the 20th century have most regrettably left their influence on several generations of pianists and audiences.

Also relevant to my point are pianist Frederic Lamond's recorded remembrances of studying with Liszt, where he talks about the "contempt" that Liszt had for "speed" (i.e., speedy piano playing)--once interrupting a student who was playing a Chopin Polonaise with "great gusto", by saying "I don't want to listen to how fast you can play octaves!..."


The only time I've ever been very deeply moved by Liszt's Sonata in B minor was on hearing Arrau's first recording (of two) for Philips:


If anyone's interested in acquiring this Arrau recording, the "limited edition" Japanese import release has exceptional sound, and on SHM/hybrid SACD, it's definitely worth the extra money, IMO (but, if interested, be warned that these Japanese SHM/hybrid SACDs tend to go out of print relatively quickly, only to then shoot up in price):

https://www.amazon.com/Sonata-B-Min...7190&sr=1-2&keywords=Claudio+Arrau+liszt+sacd

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Sonata...17520723&sr=1-14&keywords=Claudio+Arrau+liszt)

Here also is a YT link to Arrau's later digital recording of the Sonata in B minor for Philips:

Being that sound quality is so important to the presentation of Liszt's piano music, I'd be remiss not to also mention that the French "Heritage" Arrau box sets offer the finest remasters of Arrau's Philips recordings that I've heard to date, including his Liszt, but unfortunately the series has gone out of print, and is now pricey (though I'm very curious whether the upcoming Arrau "Complete Philips recordings" box set will use these French remasters or not, as they capture Arrau's unique piano timbre very faithfully): https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Works-...17529030&sr=1-1&keywords=arrau+heritage+liszt

Decca has also released a recent box set of Arrau's Philips Liszt, as has Universal Eloquence:

https://www.amazon.de/Arrau-spielt-...F8&qid=1517521020&sr=1-1&keywords=arrau+liszt (this set includes Arrau's 2nd digital Sonata in B minor for Philips.)
https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Solo-R...F8&qid=1517521216&sr=1-2&keywords=arrau+liszt

Although the "Eloquence" remasters aren't as good as the Heritage ones, in my view (I haven't heard the Decca box set).

The Pentatone label has also superbly remastered Arrau's Philips recording of the 12 Transcendental Etudes on hybrid SACD: https://www.amazon.com/12-Etudes-DE...d=1517610804&sr=1-1&keywords=arrau+liszt+sacd

2) Another pianist that plays Liszt's Sonata with a sense that he still has plenty of reserves left (i.e., he refrains from playing it 'too loud and fast') is Alfred Brendel--who is another great Liszt pianist. Which shouldn't be too surprising when you consider that Brendel studied the music of Liszt with Edwin Fischer, who was another student of Martin Krause. I find Brendel's Liszt Sonata in B minor to be among the most listenable in the catalogue, and along with Arrau's several recordings, the other recording that I return to most often:


As for the rest of Brendel's Liszt, I'd say this LP represents his Liszt at its finest: https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Fantas...859&sr=1-4-fkmr0&keywords=Brendel+spelt+liszt

Here are two collections of Brendel's Liszt (one set chosen by Brendel himself) that include the contents of the above LP:

https://www.amazon.com/Alfred-Brend...&qid=1517520796&sr=1-1&keywords=Brendel+liszt
https://www.amazon.de/Brendel-spiel...&qid=1517520988&sr=8-2&keywords=brendel+liszt

Brendel's writings on Liszt can be worthwhile reading too, especially his thoughts on the "Faustian" ending of the Sonata in B minor:

https://www.amazon.com/Alfred-Brend...rd_wg=gFeIk&psc=1&refRID=BZ9NGRHGTRXKZCFXZB9Z
https://www.amazon.com/Music-Sense-...17524506&sr=1-5&keywords=alfred+brendel+liszt

3) Other pianists that I'll occasionally listen to in the Sonata in B minor are Sviatoslav Richter and Nelson Freire, both of whom can have special insights into Liszt, though at times they can play Liszt too forcefully for my tastes:


I've also enjoyed Freire's recent Decca Liszt CD, entitled "Harmonie du soir" (which has exceptional audiophile sound):

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Harmon...8&qid=1517521998&sr=1-1&keywords=Freire+liszt

4) Here are the other Liszt recordings that I've liked (though I'm not saying that all of the recordings listed below conform to the tradition of Liszt playing that I've described above):

A. Annees de Pelerinage, three books: "Swiss Years", Book 1, and the "Italian Years"--Books 2 & 3: my favorites include Lazar Berman on DG, Jorge Bolet--especially in his "Swiss Years" Book 1, and Muza Rubackyte, whose recording was a real sleeper, but has unfortunately gone out of print and is hard to find at a reasonable price. I've also have liked Zoltan Kocsis in the darker moods of Book 3.

The Berman recordings once sounded truly exceptional on DG LPs, but I've never been entirely happy with any of the CD remasters: Here's a Korean import, which I hope has better sound than the sets I own, but I can't say for sure:

https://www.amazon.com/Classic-CD-L...17521619&sr=1-12&keywords=Berman+liszt+annees

Or, what is probably the best of the Berman reissues that I've collected, sound-wise, from the Australian Eloquence label:

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Annees...1517525946&sr=1-7&keywords=Lazar+Berman+liszt

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Piano-...ll&keywords=Bolet+liszt+annees+de+pelegrinage

https://www.sa-cd.net/showtitle/1854

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Annees...17607724&sr=1-10&keywords=zoltan+kocsis+liszt
https://www.amazon.com/Années-Pele...-1-fkmr0&keywords=zoltan+kocsis+brendel+liszt (This two-fer includes Kocsis' Book 3 above.)

B. 12 Transcendental Etudes: my favorite is Jorge Bolet's Decca recording. I especially like the way Bolet plays "Harmonies du soir", which is remarkable (Richter & Freire play this piece beautifully too, but I prefer Bolet). I admire Lazar Berman's dazzling recording too.

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Piano-...61&sr=1-1&keywords=Bolet+liszt+transcendental
https://www.amazon.com/Russian-Pian...517525946&sr=1-11&keywords=Lazar+Berman+liszt

C. Wagner, Schubert, & Italian Opera Transcriptions: I've liked pianists Zoltan Kocsis, Claudio Arrau, Jorge Bolet, Michel Dalberto, and Michele Campanella in this music. (I've yet to hear Cyprien Katsaris in the Liszt Beethoven transcriptions, or Yury Martynov either, who performs the 9 Symphonies on an antique piano.)

https://www.amazon.com/Wagner-Trans...517533575&sr=1-1&keywords=kocsis+liszt+wagner
https://www.amazon.com/Great-Transc...8&qid=1517533524&sr=1-3&keywords=kocsis+liszt
(this two-fer includes the Kocsis Wagner recordings above.)
https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Verdi-...7525340&sr=1-9&keywords=michel+dalberto+liszt
https://www.amazon.com/Schubert-Tra...=1517538706&sr=1-6&keywords=jorge+bolet+liszt

D. Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude--Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Jorge Bolet, and Andrea Bonnata are my favorites; although many feel that Bolet's Liszt was better in concert than in the studio, & having him heard him play Liszt live at Carnegie Hall, I'd have to agree, as it was a deeply moving experience to hear him play the Benediction in recital:

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Venezi...21583&sr=1-1&keywords=Bolet+liszt+benediction

E. "Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses"--Andrea Bonatta. (There have been a number of recordings of these works in recent years, from Michael Korstick, Robert Plano, Steven Osborne, Brigitte Engerer, Pascal Amoyel, but I've not heard any of them.):

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Harmon...52&sr=1-17&keywords=liszt+harmonies+poetiques

F. 6 Consolations--these works bring out the best in Bolet (at least, among his Decca Liszt recordings), IMO:

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Concer...e+bolet+concert+studies,+consolatio ns+liszt

Here's the whole Bolet Liszt box set on Decca (though again, these early CD recordings sounded better on the Decca LPs, IMO, and probably should be remastered):

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Piano-Works-Box-Set/dp/B00005ND3L/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_txt?ie=UTF8

G. An essential 'classic' Liszt recording: Sviatoslav Richter playing Liszt's Piano Concertos 1 & 2, with the LSO & Kyril Kondrashin conducting:

https://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Piano-...sr=1-2&keywords=Richter+liszt+piano+concertos

5) Finally, as noted above, among historical recordings, Liszt's students offer a gateway back to the composer, and are essential listening in their teacher's music. Fortunately, most of Liszt's students can be heard on CD and You Tube:

https://www.amazon.com/Pupils-Liszt...id=1517523548&sr=1-6&keywords=Rosenthal+liszt

In addition, I've also greatly enjoyed a historical pianist that wasn't a Liszt student, Vladimir de Pachmann, in his early recordings of Liszt's music (Pachmann was Mahler's favorite pianist). His 1915 recording of the Polonaise No. 2 offers exceptionally fine Liszt playing, in my view:

 

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Ignaz Friedman was another remarkable Liszt pianist, born in 1882. There's a remarkable clarity, sparkle and brilliance in the treble range of his right hand, which I expect in a great Liszt virtuoso, IMO one of the greatest pianists of the first half of the 20th-century. There's a world of subtleties in this brief five minute performance:

.
 
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