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Les Preludes / 2 Faust Episodes / 2 Legends [1983-5, Conlon]

af Franz Liszt, James Conlon (conductor)

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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

[1] Les Préludes, S97 [16’47]

Zwei Episoden nach Lenaus Faust, S110
[2] I. Der nachtliche Zug [15’19]
[3] II. Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (Mephisto-Walzer) [12’10]

Deux Légendes, S354
[4] No. 1 St François d’Assise: La prédication aux oiseaux [12’17]
[5] No. 2 St François Paule marchant sur les flots [8’42]

Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest
James Conlon


Recorded: November 1983 (Faust) & December 1985 (Les Préludes, Légendes), De Doelen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Warner Classics, 2011. 65'28.

==========================================

Jimmy Conlon’s dedication to the Liszt cause is rare indeed. The orchestral scores of the two Légendes, far better known as piano pieces, were first published only in 1984 (98 years after Liszt’s death!) by Editio Musica (Budapest). On the next year Conlon made what was probably the world premiere recording*; there has been, so far as I know, only one more in the 32 years since (Noseda, 2008)**. The pieces certainly deserve to be heard more often in their orchestral garments. Both are hauntingly beautiful. Conlon shares with Noseda the rushed climax in No. 2 which rather ruins the majestic main theme, but he is decidedly superior to his Italian colleague in No. 1 which he takes more slowly so that the birds should have enough time to enjoy the sermon of St Francis.

The “Faust Episodes” are seldom recorded as a set; I know of only four other cases (Ansermet, Masur, Joo, Volkov); the “Mephisto Waltz” alone, though far more famous for piano, has attracted rather bigger fish in the ocean of conductors (Karajan, Solti, Haitink). Conlon stands well comparisons with the former group. He captures vividly the “frightening solemnity” (Leslie Howard, vol. 38) of “The Night Procession” and Faust’s despair after that. He is equally successful with the wild abandon and decadent sensuality of the “Mephisto Waltz”. Also worth nothing, he uses (like Ansermet and Volkov) the less impressive and less popular, but more appropriate to the program, quiet ending.

Les Préludes is just as ubiquitous as the aforementioned works are scarce. Well over 40 recordings of it exist. Conlon is hardly a top contender in a field that boasts not only Karajan, Solti, Bernstein, Sinopoli and Muti, but also Mengelberg, Monteux, Stokowski, Golovanov, Knappertsbusch and Fricsay. But enough name-dropping! It leads us nowhere! Conlon’s is an excellent rendition in the lyrical vein, eschewing bombast in favour of beauty.

The sound – again and again! – is the big problem in Conlon’s Rotterdam recordings. The one of Les Préludes and the Légendes is classic DDD: Dim, Dull, Dreadful. One is tempted to add “Distant” and “Dynamically Dismal”. I have no idea how a sonic mess like that was approved for release at all. Thankfully, the “Faust Episodes” boast better sound, cleaner, deeper and with much better dynamics.

Whatever the sound defects, this remains an indispensable disc for serious Lisztians. The scarcity on record of 4/5 of it is worth the price of admission (not much in this budget-priced Warner reissue, by the way). Jimmy Conlon has the chops of a great Liszt conductor and I often wonder what he might have done with a first-class orchestra and a first-class label. Well, he did pretty well with a second-class orchestra and a third-class label, I can tell you that.

_______________________________________________________
*[January 2019.] It seems that Gerd Albrecht and the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin recorded both Légendes in November 1982 – before they were even published! The recordings are included on the last CD 34 from Franz Liszt: The Collection (DG, 2011). The same sessions seem to have included also Cantico del sol di San Francesco d’Assisi, a short and extremely rare cantata for baritone, choir and orchestra.
**[January 2019.] Martin Haselböck and the Wiener Akademie have made another recording in recent years as part of the most complete traversal of Liszt's orchestral works yet attempted. The completeness of this 9-CD set is admirable, but the use of period instruments and reduced orchestral forces does not inspire confidence. This search for authenticity misguidedly assumes that Liszt was completely satisfied with the Weimar orchestra at his disposal. I very much doubt that. I am pretty sure Liszt, had he been alive today, would have loved to conduct a large orchestra of modern instruments in his works. ( )
  Waldstein | Apr 5, 2017 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Liszt, Franzprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Conlon, Jamesconductorhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestramedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
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