Reviews

GHCD 2381 – Liszt – Ludwig, Földes, Leitner 1951-53

Berliner Philharmoniker, Leopold Ludwig (conductor)

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Audiophile Audition August 22, 2011

The current Liszt bicentennial spurs the reissue of some fascinating documents, and the two concertos as performed by Hungarian virtuoso Andor Foldes (1913-1992) with Leopold Ludwig from the DGG archives ranks high among them. A graduate of the Budapest Academy of Music, Foldes became an acolyte of Dohnanyi, Bartok, and Kodaly, each of whom held a high regard for Liszt. The two Liszt concertos, recorded 26-28 February 1953, ring with a high gloss of authenticity and suave panache.
The disc opens with conductor Leopold Ludwig (1908-1979) and the Berlin Philharmonic’s rendition of Les Preludes (14 November 1951), a relative rarity in his recorded output, which has subsisted mostly his operatic legacy. The performance, though not pedestrian, remains rather literalist, possessing little of interior rhythmic flexibility that Ferenc Fricsay achieved around the same period. The rendition rather glows in the way a solid Kapellmeister’s conception should, with exemplary and correct contributions from winds, harp, and brass, and the usual silken patina from the BPO which still “belonged” to Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Fricsay’s tympani gave us more sonically, and that frenzied burst makes much of the difference.
The Liszt E-flat Concerto (pub. 1856) has been vital to my own record library since I owned the 78rpm Columbia shellacs of Walter Gieseking and Sir Henry Wood. Watching the 1943 hokey propaganda film Above Suspicion with Fred MacMurray, Joan Crawford, Conrad Veidt, and Basil Rathbone confirmed my affection for the oft-bombastic but effective concert piece. Foldes communicates what wonderful poetry there exists in the broad Quasi adagio, which suddenly breaks off into darker regions with tremolo strings. The last two movements virtually sizzle with muscular excitement, made even more potent by the dovetailing of themes into each other from the previous movements: “the first perfect realization of cyclic sonata form, with common themes being treated on the variation principle” according to Bela Bartok. The A Major Concerto’s winding six-section tracery can be attributed to influence of Weber’s Konzerstueck in F Minor and Liszt’s own fascination with the “transformation of motto” technique in composition. Ludwig and Foldes merge poetry and emotional tumult in an alchemically blistering performance whose musings compel us as much as the more martial aspects of the labyrinth.
The last composition on the disc, Liszt’s ninth symphonic poem Hungaria (1854), finds realization under Ferdinand Leitner (1912-1996), a pupil of Franz Schreker whose more than 300 recordings languish in various archives. A mostly brooding piece, Hungaria does inflame our spirits–especially as an elegy for Lajos Kossuth’s frustrated 1848 revolt–with a march and a spirited coupling of gypsy tunes we find in the sixth of the Brahms Hungarian Dances. The violin cadenza in the style of a verbunkos obviously made an impression on Bartok for his Contrasts. The inflamed friss section reminds us of Mazeppa, only the materials are more clearly patriotic in flavor and fervor. As a reissue of the Liszt spirit, this disc makes a fine contribution.
Gary Lemco