Review By David Denton, Naxos,November 2007
It was all the vogue in the 18th century to have your senses titillated by works that displayed the performer’s virtuosity, and if that were combined with the use of popular melodies from opera, the delight would at least be threefold. As has often been said, audiences don’t go to see if the tightrope walker gets to the other end, they go to see if he falls off. And so it was with musicians, the composers providing all the challenges that could court in disaster. Liszt wrote over forty operatic transcriptions often using the trick that the pianist must have three hands to play the decorations and the main melody, the right hand often called upon for the most elaborate arabesques. Donizetti’s colossal fame at the time did not last, and Lucia in Parisina, based on a poem by Byron, is now long forgotten, the theme for the waltz coming from the second act. The extended Lucrezia Borgia transcription lasts for over twenty minutes using the trio from the second act and the following Drinking Song. The best known work comes with the combination of two Lucia di Lammermoor extracts that were originally published separately. Spirto gentile is taken from the fourth act of La favourite, the sad march forming part of the composer’s last opera Dom Sebastien, roi de Portugal. William Wolfram is not a flashy pianist who throws caution to the wind in order to excite, his brand of Liszt is one of the utmost clarity, his virtuosity placed at the service of the music rather than as an example of personal brilliance. Tempos are still often hair-raisingly fast, the octave passage in the finale of Lucrezia Borgia a moment to savour, while Wolfram’s sense of fun often surfaces, the Drinking Song (track 3), just gently lurching around. Certainly this is one of the finest releases in the Naxos complete Liszt, and a top recommendation. The recording made in Toronto’s Glenn Gould studio is an object lesson in Liszt recordings, the filigree sparkling, while the lower octaves are thrillingly robust.more....