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Franz Liszt – Piano Concertos – Arnaldo Cohen, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, John Neschling (2007) [Official Digital Download 24bit/44.1kHz]

Franz Liszt – Piano Concertos – Arnaldo Cohen, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, John Neschling (2007)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44.1kHz  | Time – 57:08 minutes | 472 MB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: | © BIS Records AB
Recorded: in July 2005 at the Sala São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazill

Review by: David Hurwitz Classcis Today US and Classics Today France 10/10
It’s often thought that critics work in isolation, and that a published opinion is merely the subjective impression of one individual. Maybe some do work that way, but I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in communication with colleagues or partners at and elsewhere–some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable people in the field. We enjoy discussing the merits of various recordings, and particularly before we give a disc a 10/10 rating we often consult to see if we agree. This is reflected, for example, in the “International Consensus” Disc of the Month selections, but that is only the tip of the critical iceberg. When it comes to repertoire very frequently recorded, such as the Liszt piano concertos, we often try to be extra careful, to be particularly clear about our reasons for awarding a new release our highest accolade.

In this particular case, I had an extensive discussion with my colleague Christophe Huss, who operates We both agreed that these performances were unusually excellent, with Christophe a bit more enthusiastic about them than I was. Clearly, Arnaldo Cohen is an exceptional Liszt pianist; he tackles all three works with consummate virtuosity and intelligence. Rapid passagework, such as the scherzo section of Piano Concerto No. 1, truly sparkles. The cadenzas in Totentanz are brilliant without turning noisy or vulgar. The Second Concerto possesses a rare cogency arising primarily from Cohen’s ability to inflect a phrase without slowing down for effect or sacrificing the long arc of melody.

I thought, however, that the end of Totentanz didn’t quite match the manic sense of fun characteristic of Brendel’s astonishing performance with Haitink on Philips (one of the very best recordings he ever made). Christophe felt that this minor deficit was more than outweighed by one other critical factor. Many of the most highly acclaimed recordings of these concertos, he pointed out, feature big-name soloists accompanied by big-name conductors and orchestras who play with, at best, a certain casual indifference. This is, after all, pianists’ music. In this case, we have a lesser-known conductor and orchestra, but they play with as much conviction and intensity as the soloist, and bring an equal amount of character and personality to their contributions. The result is a true partnership of equals, a rarity in Liszt’s piano music, yet surely what he intended in these colorfully and very precisely scored pieces (how many piano concertos do you know that give specific cautionary advice in a footnote to the triangle player?).

Listening to these performances yet again, and making some spot comparisons with a few other favorite versions, it’s clear that Christophe was right. And this fact, together with BIS’s typically state-of-the-art SACD multichannel engineering, led us both to agree to give this disc our highest recommendation. I decided to tell the story in this way because I think it says something useful about what a 10/10 means: a performance that is first of all generally excellent, but that also contains something extra, a positive quality not to be found in competing versions (at least not quite to the same degree). It doesn’t mean that everything about it is “the best” in direct comparative listening (a silly notion to begin with), and of course everyone will have their own personal preference in this music–but if you try this disc you will surely hear the qualities described above, just as we did, and hopefully will be similarly impressed. [8/1/2007]


Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Totentanz – Paraphrase on ‘Dies iræ’ for piano and orchestra (1849/59) 15:14
01 Andante – Allegro – Allegro moderato 02:02
02 Variation I 00:50
03 Variation II 00:40
04 Variation III 00:27
05 Variation IV 03:16
06 Variation V 02:48
07 Cadenza 01:10
08 Variation VI 02:39
09 Cadenza 00:41
10 Allegro animato 00:41

Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major (1839/1849 – 56) 18:49
11 I. Allegro maestoso. Tempo giusto 05:34
12 II. Quasi adagio 04:54
13 III. Allegretto vivace 04:11
14 IV. Allegro marziale animato 04:10

Piano Concerto No.2 in A major (1839/1849 – 61) 21:43
15 Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai 06:53
16 Tempo del andante – Allegro moderato 05:55
17 Allegro deciso 02:53
18 Marziale un poco meno allegro 01:07
19 Un poco meno mosso 03:08
20 Allegro animato 01:47

Arnaldo Cohen – piano (Steinway D)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP)
John Neschling – conductor


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