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Monday 5 December 2016

It may be two centuries since his birth, but the Liszt still goes on . . .

Published 22/10/2011 | 05:00

The bi-centenary of the birth of the Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher Franz Liszt falls today. Liszt became renowned throughout Europe during the 19th century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. His contemporaries described him as the most technically advanced pianist of his age and perhaps the greatest pianist of all time.

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His teacher, Carl Czerny, claimed that Liszt was a natural who played according to feeling. Reviews of his concerts especially praise the brilliance, strength and precision of his playing.

One of the most detailed descriptions of his playing from this time comes from the winter of 1831, during which he was earning a living primarily as a teacher in Paris.

Among his pupils was Valerie Boissier, whose mother Caroline kept a careful diary of the lessons.

"M Liszt's playing contains abandonment, a liberated feeling, but even when it becomes impetuous and energetic in his fortissimo, it is still without harshness and dryness" she says.

"He draws from the piano tones that are purer, mellower and stronger than anyone has been able to do; his touch has an indescribable charm."

Liszt was a prolific composer and his piano works are often marked by their difficulty. He is regarded as the creator of an entirely new genre of piano music and a groundbreaking compositional style.

New and reissued Liszt recordings have been hitting the market in celebration of his bi-centenary.

Top of the list for me is Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman who made two Liszt discs for Deutsche Grammophon in 1987 and 1990.

One features the two Piano Concertos and 'Totentanz', with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa.

The second disc features solo piano music, comprising Liszt's masterwork, the B minor Sonata and a selection of late piano works. As part of the celebration of the bi-centenary the two CDs are now available as one set.

The plans to record the first disc were in full swing when Zimerman's mother died and only three months later his daughter Claudia was born. As a result, the pianist describes this as the most personal of all his recordings.

For me, added to the emotion that lies behind this recording is Zimerman's hugely impressive technique, sensitivity and incredible musicianship. It's an interpretation that I feel Liszt would have been proud of.

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals Saturday 2-4pm and Sunday Matinee Sundays at noon on RTÉ lyric fm.

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