Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jean-Yves Thibaudet - All-Liszt - 02/02/11

Liszt: Consolations (Second version)
Liszt: Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este
Liszt: Deux légendes: St. François d’Assise: la prédiction aux oiseaux & St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots
Liszt: Meine Freunden from Chants polonais (after Chopin)
Liszt: Ballade No 2 in B Minor
Liszt: Isoldes Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (after Wagner)
Liszt: Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli

When I had originally noticed that Jean-Yves Thibaudet was lined up for an all-Liszt recital in the Carnegie Hall catalog about a year ago, I had immediately made a mental note of it and started dreaming of how fortuitous the musical collaboration of those two famously virtuosic performers was going to be, even if one-sided. And what better way to properly celebrate the eclectic composer’s 200th anniversary indeed? After hearing Jean-Yves Thibaudet flamboyantly bring to life the Hungarian master’s deliciously diabolical Totentanz twice in the past couple of years, I was very much looking forward to hearing him tackle some more subdued pieces as well. So never mind the dreadfully icy mess turned into a plain old mess that was New York City on Wednesday, there was dazzling music to be had at Carnegie Hall and all I could say was: “Jean-Yves, j’arrive !”

Franz Liszt is probably remembered mostly as a dazzling figure of 19th century Romanticism, but his œuvre actually covers a wide range of inspirations and genres. Accordingly, the concert started pensively with his set of six short consolations, all gentle and thoughtful little gems. Even better, throughout those 20 minutes and the rest of the performance, an aura of innate elegance, which I have always associated with my fellow Lyonnais, imperceptibly permeated the music and the general atmosphere as well, as if Carnegie Hall had suddenly turned into an exclusive salon of Belle époque’s Paris.
But we actually did not get to stay in the City of Lights for very long as Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este took us to Rome, where Liszt moved when he was 50 to spend his remaining years, renouncing all Romantic excesses and devoting himself to the joys of God, nature and sacred music. True to form, this lovely piece resonated with countless shimmering, impressionistic sparkles as we were all picturing the water gracefully playing around the famed fountains.
Still in Rome and fully in line with his new life style, his Deux légendes were inspired by Biblical stories about two saints and gave Jean-Yves Thibaudet plenty of opportunities to display his ever impressive skills. As the concert was proceeding, the works were becoming more complex and more involved, but our piano man remained right on top of it all and spectacularly delivered.
Directly and openly connected to Chopin, Meine Freunden and the Ballade No 2 in B Minor had fittingly some quietly poetic moments in them, but Liszt obviously could not stay away from his more hot-blooded style too long, so there was a solid dose of that in them too.
One of my very favorite opera arias, Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde received an appropriately passionate treatment, but I have to say that I missed the ethereal quality that only a human voice can provide. It was still a pleasure to hear such a different version of it though, one that Wagner would have surely approved of.
Liszt the consummate showman finally made a late but brilliant appearance courtesy of his delightful Tarantella, an exciting explosion of colorful fun that quickly turned into a decidedly grand finale.

After such a relentless marathon, and some unreservedly loud and deeply appreciative clapping from the audience, I was dearly hoping that our pianist would treat us to one, maybe two, encores, but we got three! We stayed with Liszt for La cloche sonne, a rare tidbit from 1950, then we moved on to Prélude pathétique by Cherkassy, a Russian pianist and composer whom Thibaudet had seen in that very same hall, to eventually finish with Intermezzo in A Minor, Op. 118, No 2 by Brahms. Once a Romantic…

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