Liszt / Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter

More Franz Liszt’s music

Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

  • This pressing has Beyond White Hot Stamper (A++++) sound on both sides – sound that must be experienced to be believed! – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • The finest Liszt 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos we know of for their performances, and unquestionably for sonics (when the sonics are this good!)
  • More like LIVE MUSIC than any classical recording I have played in longer than I care to remember
  • So big, rich and transparent we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording – this is a game changer, the first time a single pressing of the album has earned grades these high on both sides

NOTE: *Unlike Concerto No. 1, The Second Piano Concerto opens very quietly, so there will likely never be a vintage pressing of the album that will get that opening to play like a CD. Expect to hear some random ticks, a small price to pay to hear this wonderful performance on top quality analog.

Please note: we award the Four Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time. 

Both sides show up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave them that fourth plus!

Richter and Kondrashin deliver the finest Liszt 1st & 2nd Piano Concertos I know of, musically, sonically and in every other way. Richter’s performance here is alternately energetic and lyrical, precisely as the work demands. The recording itself is explosively dynamic. The brass is unbelievably full, rich and powerful. You won’t find a better recording of this music anywhere, and this pressing just cannot be beat.

Huge and Powerful

Big and rich (always a problem with piano recordings: you want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies can pull it off without sounding thin). We love the BIG, FAT, Tubey Magical sound of this recording! The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

Huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1964
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of the orchestra having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the concert hall

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Live Sound

As we noted above, the best pressings of this album are more like LIVE MUSIC than any other classical recording I have played in longer than I can remember. I don’t know of another piano concerto recording that more correctly captures the relationship between the piano and the orchestra. The piano is huge and powerful, yet the percussive and lighter qualities on the instrument are clearly heard in proper relation to the orchestra as a whole.

I simply cannot criticize the work that Fine and Cozart have achieved with this recording, and believe me, there are very few records in this world about which I could not find something to criiticize. It is, after all, our job, and we like to set VERY high standards for the work we do.

Holland versus Italy

Some pressings come from Holland. Some are made in Italy. Which country produced the consistently best sound?

For any given side, one country’s pressings might be better than another’s, and thinking that you can predict the results of the shootout is mistaken indeed. That said, in our shootout from two years ago one country tended to do better on one side and one country tended to do better on the other. How did we know that?

At the end of the last three or four shootouts — all done without the person playing the record or the listener judging it having a clue as to which country’s pressing was on the turntable — one country tended to win one side and one country tended to win the other.

This time around one country produced the two best sounding copies. Next time around, who knows which country will win? That’s what shootouts are for.

What We’re Listening For on Liszt’s Piano Concertos 1 & 2

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to LPs.
  • Note-like bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Piano Concerto No. 1

Side Two

Piano Concerto No. 2

The Kennedy Center

Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Liszt sketched his two piano concertos in 1839, during his years of touring the music capitals of Europe, but they lay unfinished until he became court music director at Weimar in 1848. The first ideas for the E-flat Concerto appeared in a notebook as early as 1830, but the score was not completed, according to a letter from Liszt’s eventual son-in-law, the pianist/conductor Hans von Bülow, until June 1849; it was revised in 1853. The premiere was part of a week of gala concerts honoring the music of Hector Berlioz at the Grand Ducal palace in Weimar, thus allowing the French composer to conduct while Liszt played. A memorable evening!

Liszt required of a concerto that it be “clear in sense, brilliant in expression, and grand in style.” In other words, it had to be a knockout. While it was inevitable that the E-flat Concerto would have a high degree of finger-churning display, it was not automatic that it should also be of fine musical quality — but it is. Liszt undertook an interesting structural experiment in the Concerto by fusing the substance of the concerto form with the architecture of the symphony. (“Music is never stationary,” he once pronounced. “Successive forms and styles can only be like so many resting places — like tents pitched and taken down again on the road to the Ideal.”)

Though the work is played continuously, four distinct sections may be discerned within its span: an opening Allegro, built largely from the bold theme presented immediately at the outset; an Adagio that grows from a lyrical, arched melody initiated by the cellos and basses; a vivacious, scherzo-like section enlivened by the glistening tintinnabulations of the solo triangle; and a closing Allegro marziale that gathers together the motives of the preceding sections into a rousing conclusion.

Of the finale, Liszt wrote, “It is only an urgent recapitulation of the earlier subject matter with quickened, livelier rhythm, and contains no new motive…. This kind of binding together and rounding off of a whole piece at its close is somewhat my own, but it is quite maintained and justified from the standpoint of musical form.”

Béla Bartók judged this Concerto, because of its grandiose recall and interpenetration of themes in the finale, to be “the first perfect realization of cyclical sonata form.” It was this formal concept — a single-movement work in several sections utilizing just one or two themes — that Liszt was also to use in his tone poems of the following two decades and in the Second Piano Concerto.

Franz Liszt was one of the most brilliant and provocative figures in music history. As a pianist, conductor, composer, teacher, writer and personality — for with Liszt, being a colorful personality was itself a profession — his immediate influence upon European music can hardly be exaggerated. His life was a veritable pagan wilderness wherein flourished luxuriant legends of love affairs, illegitimate children, encounters with great figures of the period, and hairbreadth escapes from a variety of romantic murders. Unlike Wagner and Berlioz, Liszt never wrote the story of his life, for, as he casually remarked, he was too busy living it.

By all accounts, Liszt led the most sensational life ever granted to a musician. In his youth and early manhood, he received the sort of wild and unbuttoned adulation that today is seen only at the appearances of a select handful of rock music stars.

By 1848, Liszt had made his fortune, secured his fame, and decided that he had been touring long enough, so he gave up performing, appearing in public during the last four decades of his life only for an occasional benefit concert.

Once installed at Weimar, Liszt took over the musical establishment there, and he elevated it into one of the most important centers of European musical culture. He stirred up interest in such neglected composers as Schubert, and encouraged such younger ones as Saint-Saëns, Wagner and Grieg by performing their works.

He also gave much of his energy to his own original compositions, and created many of the pieces for which he is known today — the symphonies, piano concertos, symphonic poems and choral works. Liszt had composed before he moved to Weimar, of course — his total output numbers between 1,400 and 1,500 separate works.

His later works are not only indispensable components of the Romantic musical era in their own right, but were also an important influence on other composers in their form, harmony and poetic content.

Liszt was also a direct link to that nearly deified figure, the glorious Beethoven, who had, so the story went, actually kissed the young prodigy on the forehead with his own lips.

To make this already unassailable combination of technique and tradition absolutely irresistible, Liszt brought to it an all-encompassing view of mankind that enabled the mere tones of the piano to surpass themselves and open unspeakable realms of transcendent delight. A friend once remarked about the composer’s wide variety of interests, “One could never know in which mental stall Liszt would find his next hobby horse.”

Liszt was a truly remarkable man, arguably the most important figure after Beethoven in terms of his cumulative influence in all of 19th-century music.

Dr. Richard E. Rodda