Beethoven an Ode to Joy with La Chapelle at the Wigmore Hall
Over two days Louis Lortie brought his musicians from his class at La Chapelle in Brussels to London to astonish and excite us with Liszt’s own remodelling of five of Beethoven’s nine Symphonies.
One could not call them transcriptions with their extraordinarily funabulistic pianistic solutions to the original orchestration ,although completely faithful to Beethoven’s score.
It was after all Liszt who edited one of the first complete and scrupulously faithful editions of the piano sonatas.He also collected monies and kind (Schumann Fantasie and Mendelssohn Variations serieuses) from Schumann,Mendelssohn and many others to erect a statue to his master,Beethoven in Bonn.
We were treated to a crystal clear account of the first with Alexander Kashpurin and a quite overwhelming execution of the Eroica by Djordje Radevski.
But it was the supreme artistry of Alexander Gadjiev that stole our hearts on the first evening.
In 2015 Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev won the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan and last year won the Krystian Zimerman prize for best performance of a sonata at the 2021 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. His Serbian colleague won the Davorin Jenko Competition in Belgrade in 2015 and Concours Brueghel in Brussels in 2017. 2021 First Prize Winner of the Les Etoiles du Piano competition in France, Alexander Kashpurin is ‘one of those great rarities amongst pianists, having a true musical personality combined with exceptional pianistic resources, far beyond the norm’. Together they offer a rare opportunity to hear Liszt’s extraordinary transcriptions of three Beethoven symphonies.
As Salih Can Gevrek came close to doing with an extraordinarily exciting account of the fifth.
In a second instalment of Liszt’s Beethoven transcriptions, made in 1863-4, and including a two-piano version of the Ninth Symphony, the French-Canadian pianist – himself a renowned Liszt interpreter – joins with regular duo partner Hélène Mercier and the Turkish Salih Can Gevrek – now an artist in residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Brussels, inaugurated in 1939 and today recognised internationally as a leading institution for higher musical training.
But it was the masterly display of musicianship,colour and balance with Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier on two pianos that kept the audience breathless,as with baited breath we awaited their sumptuous rendition of the Ode to Joy.
No words were necessary but the Joy they brought to an audience on their feet at the end was evidence enough of their great artistry
Alan Walker stated that Liszt’s Beethoven Symphony transcriptions “are arguably the greatest work of transcription ever completed in the history of music.”And Horowitz in a 1988 interview, stated “I deeply regret never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public – these are the greatest works for the piano – tremendous works – every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.”
Liszt’s Beethoven Symphony transcriptions are little known outside serious musical circles, and were in relative obscurity for over 100 years after their publication. It remains a mystery why none of Liszt’s pupils performed or recorded these works. The first recording of any of them was not until 1967, when Glenn Gould recorded the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. Idil Biret became the first pianist to record the complete cycle, between July 1985 and April 1986 and performed all nine symphonies at the 1986 Montpellier Festival in four recitals on 26, 27 July and 2, 3 August.
When Liszt began work transcribing the ninth symphony, he stated that “after a great deal of experimentation in various directions, I was unable to deny the utter impossibility of even a partially satisfactory and effective arrangement of the 4th movement. I hope you will not take it amiss if I dispense with this and regard my arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies as complete at the end of the 3rd movement of the Ninth.” (He had in fact completed a transcription of the Ninth Symphony for two pianos in 1850.) Nevertheless, he made another attempt after an expressive letter from Breitkopf & Härtel, and expressed “the range achieved by the pianoforte in recent years as a result of progress both in playing technique and in terms of mechanical improvements enables more and better things to be achieved than was previously possible. Through the immense development of its harmonic power the piano is trying increasingly to adopt all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it is able, with only a few exceptions, to reproduce all the characteristics, all the combination, all the forms of the deepest and most profound works of music. It was with this intention that I embark on the work which I now present to the world.”
The full set of transcriptions were finally published in 1865 and dedicated to Hans von Bulow.