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New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art
02/20/2011 -  
Franz Liszt: Ballad Number 2 in B minor – Funérailles (from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses) – Nuages gris – Après une lecture de Dante from Années de pèlerinage (Deuxième année)
Liszt transcriptions:
Robert Schumann: Liebeslied – Frühlingsnacht
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Lacrimosa from the Requiem
Franz Schubert: Ständchen
Richard Wagner: Isoldes Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

Lise de la Salle (Pianist)

L. de la Salle (© Stéphane Gallois)

Lise de la Salle must be bored with every review beginning “The very young French pianist….” Yes, she is only 22, she’s been giving concerts since the age of nine, she is definitely Parisian, and yes, she is a pianist.

So let’s commence by saying that had the music at the Metropolitan Museum of Art been performed by an antediluvian Aztec accordion-player, it still would qualify as a thrilling concert.

More essential, Ms. de la Salle’s program revealed even more of Franz Liszt than of the highly-reputed pianist herself. No Mephisto Waltz(es), no pseudo-Hungarian Rhapsod(ies). (Liszt couldn’t even speak Magyar anyhow.) Instead, two very rare pieces, interesting transcriptions, and other works shedding new light on the composer.

Confessedly, I grew up with the idea that Liszt music was slightly outré, that its bombast outweighed its inspiration. But as pianists took on more music from the inexhaustible catalogue, one began to marvel not only at the Liszt productivity but at its sometimes unerring ravishing beauty.

Ms. de la Salle is known for many other composers–her Chopin recordings are wonderful, her one Debussy encore as beautiful as Gieseking–but obviously she knew exactly how Liszt should be handled: with sensitivity, grace, and, yes, emotional outbursts when necessary.

The grace was shown in the too-short Nuages gris, not only a Debussyan title, but a work of improvised Impressionist haze, vague, cloudy notes which came and went too quickly. Hearing this, one realizes that Liszt is the only composer who could have fit into the 20th Century without a second thought, a born atonalist born in the wrong century.

Also rare was Liszt’s transcription from Mozart’s Requiem. It was difficult to hear the Lacrimosa without a chorus and orchestra, but Liszt came near to settling the problem, by simply (simply!!) playing the choral parts in octaves.

Ms. de la Salle’s technical prowess is understood. Amidst the million-odd notes played, I heard one note error, and a horribly rushed Scarlatti encore, which made her more human. Overlooked, perhaps, is her deep deep intelligence in what she plays. Particularly in the fantasy After a lecture on Dante, where she managed to keep a tightrope walker’s balance between the Presto agitato and the oh so sensitive inward feelings later in the work. Liszt was so many personalities, but he was the most omnivorous reader and lover of classical literature: this was no affectation but a love of the poet.

Ms. de la Salle began the work with another relatively unknown piece, the B Minor Ballade (the program mistakenly called it F major, beginning with those tremendous rolls in the bass, continuing onto some resplendent lyrical moods. And finally, in the first half, the moody, thunderous, demonic Funérailles. How would Ms. de la Salle handle the trumpet calls and the galloping octaves? With all the heroics that a Steinway can command.

The second half was devoted to Liszt transcriptions. Three songs, the one Mozart chorale, and then Wagner’s familiar Liebestod transcription. Another indication of Lise de la Salle’s intelligence is that we were offered different styles for each, from the lyrical Schubert to the passionate Wagner. Liszt might have been trying to replicate orchestra and voice, but the pianist was thoughtful enough to think, “Well, that was nice for Liszt. But all I have is a piano, so I won’t try to imitate anything but my instrument.”

Nor did she need to. She is a woman who obviously thinks deeply about her music, and has both the fingers and the mind to give the works all the dimensions possible. As the years go on, she will have different ideas, different interpretations. But at this moment, her music, neither youthful nor mature, is simply and completely a glorious celebration.

Harry Rolnick



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