Viners Norma

I remembered a remarkable performance that I had heard from Mark Viner a few weeks ago of Liszt’s Norma Fantasy and so after the rather boring stage performance of Norma at Covent Garden I could not wait to listen to his new CD of Liszt Opera Fantasies.
Of course the static world of the CD can never give the frisson necessary in these works that live for an audience and let me say that the live performance of the Norma Fantasy by Mark Viner on a magnificent Bosendorfer Piano was even more remarkable than the performance on this superbly recorded Steinway .
And what a genius Liszt was indeed with these early Reminiscences written for his own performances in the fashionable salons of the day .These works that most pianists can only admire “from a safe distance” as that Liszt expert Leslie Howard has penned in his marathon complete recordings of Liszt’s works for piano( over 100 CD’s and a well deserved entry in the Guinness book of records(sic)).
Mark Viner is still very young yet this is already the second recording of Opera Fantasies – the first being that of Thalberg-Liszt’s greatest rival- that I have spoken about a few months ago.
I remember the sensation that the arrival of Raymond Lewenthal created at his first appearance in London at the Wigmore Hall with works by Alkan and Liszt,some of which we had only read about in history books but never heard performed .
One such work was the Hexameron that is also on this remarkable disc .
Written for the salon of Princess di Belgiojoso for her campaign for the independence of her beloved homeland,Italy.
Using the theme from Bellini’s I Puritani,a reactionary call to arms,she had persuaded many artists ,actors ,authors and politicians to give their autographs and painters such as Delacroix and Scheffer to donate paintings for the cause.
Thus the Hexameron coordinated by Liszt was with variations on I Puritani donated by Chopin,Thalberg,Pixis,Czerny and Herz .
Let me just say that Mark Viner is a young english trained virtuoso.
He studied at the Purcell School with Tessa Nicholson and later at the Royal College with Niel Immelman and hats off to them for producing such a real virtuoso that can cope with ease the transcendental difficulties of these pieces that were written to show off the remarkable virtuosity of their composers and all the possibilities of the then new grand piano.
Not only is Mark Viner a very fine virtuoso in the great romantic tradition but he is also a thinking musician who has searched out these scores and is still searching for others to lay before us.
He also wrote the very learned notes on this CD .
The performances on this CD :the Hexameron as with the other Fantasies have nothing to fear from the Lewenthals or Brendels that had entered slightly into this magic world of rival pianists many years ago .
Here are fully fledged performance with great feats of pianism managed with ease .Sumptuous colours abound and expert pedalling allows us to marvel at the fact that there are only two hands on the keyboard.
The Norma fantasy, in particular ,shows the real genius of Liszt to search out all the marvellous things in what can sometimes seem rather overblown bel canto operas and give them a shape,form and thus meaning that is not always apparent in the original opera. Sometimes as here in the Norma fantasy changing the order of entrance of the themes from the original opera giving a cohesion and power that otherwise would be missing.
Of course it was Sutherland and her husband together with Callas and Siciliani who led the way with these Bel Canto operas and opened the gates,in our time.
These forgotten jewels that needed a magic princess with a golden voice to bring them back to life again.
I well remember too the intelligent Liszt recordings that Brendel made for the Turnabout label that were only fifty pence and that we as students hunted out and were overwhelmed to learn that Liszt was a composer to rank with the greatest as we had always thought.
Here on this latest CD are the Marche funebre de Dom Sebastien and the Reminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti together with Norma and Hexameron .
I am sure this is only the first in a series by this remarkable musician determined to re live the fantastic romantic world of the virtuosi of the 19th century.
Already running off with first prize at the Alkan International Competition ,Greece in 2012 .He is the Chairman of the Alkan Society in the UK and at only 27 I am sure we can expect many surprising discoveries at the beginning of his auspicious career.
Having heard his live performances of Alkan I am certain many recordings will be in the pipe line as the world discovers this young musician as they did Raymond Lewenthal all those years ago.
Mark tells me he will be making his New York debut next month ………when they too will discover this remarkable young british virtuoso .


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