Nelson Freire Interprets Liszt

Occasionally a CD comes along that is so extraordinary that I must applaud it publicly. The Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, born in 1944, has had a distinguished performing career, but his is a name known primarily to connoisseurs as one of the great pianists of his generation.

His recordings of Chopin and Beethoven are particularly fine. He has appeared with many of the world’s great orchestras, and his appearances at the Salzburg Festival are eagerly awaited. His style is patrician, and he programs only the highest quality repertoire.

Unfortunately (and unjustifiably) Liszt’s music for the piano sometimes lends itself to “pounding” at the keyboard. But pianists of the highest caliber, for example Earl Wild and Alfred Brendel, performed Liszt’s music with taste and sensitivity. Add Freire’s name to that “list” of artists who have honored the memory of Liszt in his bicentennial year.

In his new release on Decca, Harmonies du Soir, Freire resists the temptation to emphasize Liszt’s showmanship and bombast. Instead, he plays Liszt’s music with delicacy and taste, featuring an extraordinarily beautiful, limpid tone. His technique is impeccable, but the emphasis is on spontaneity of expression joined with a poetic sensibility.

The six Consolations, S. 172 are a narrative in pianistic form. The Sonetto 104 del Petrarca is a personal favorite, but it has never been performed more poetically by anyone else. While his musicianship is everywhere on display, Freire’s skill and sensitivity in this recital perhaps are best synthesized in the title track, Harmonies du soir.

To top it off, the digital sound of this Decca release is clear, with great depth and a broad soundstage. It is an excellent recording in every respect. It is highly recommended as one of the finest releases of the Liszt bicentennial year. If your taste runs to the Romantic, and you admire superior pianism, look no further.

Franz Liszt: Harmonies du Soir
Nelson Freire, piano

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