Franciscus List, as was his name written in the birth register in the village church at Unterfrauenhaid, was enormously prolific as composer – more than 700 works – and yet he spent many years hailed as piano virtuoso and conductor. In his vast output it is the instrumental and orchestral music that dominates, but he also wrote a not inconsiderable number of vocal works, including more than seventy solo songs. Some of them are frequently heard, like the Victor Hugo setting Oh! Quand je dors and Goethe’s Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh – the two songs that open and close this recital. Though stylistically firmly rooted in French Romanticism Franz Liszt was a true cosmopolitan. This is also mirrored in his choice of poetry for his songs. He set French, German, Italian, English, Russian and Hungarian texts, and this pluralism became the starting point for the present disc, Liszt Abroad.
Though there is no shortage of recordings of Liszt’s songs, all-Liszt recitals are relatively rare. In my collection there are only two, both on LP: Hildegard Behrens on DG and Swedish mezzo-soprano Sylvia Lindenstrand on Polar, a record that I believe was mainly available in Scandinavia. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded Liszt songs, also for DG, some of which I have on a compilation disc, and for the same company Brigitte Fassbaender coupled Liszt and Richard Strauss, which for a long time has been my favourite.
This new disc has the potential to become the new favourite – and not only for the cosmopolitan programme, but for the singing of the three soloists. They have been cleverly chosen to suit their respective songs. Rebecca Evans sings the two favourites that frame the rest of the programme, as well as the three Petrarch Sonnets, Better known perhaps as piano pieces but wonderful songs in their own right. She has a beautiful, light soprano, employed with taste and musicality, singing long lines with sensitive phrasing, and her pianissimos are simply ravishing. Just listen to the Sonnet 123 (tr. 10), where she spins a spider-web thin thread of tone. It’s magical!
Matthew Rose’s dramatic bass – the cover says baritone but this is a true bass – is cut out for the powerful songs, where the bolero Gastibelza is truly magnificent. The gothic atmosphere of Die Vätergruft is also well caught. The sole Russian poem, Lermontov’s V minutu zhizni trudnuju, is sung with the dark intensity of a Boris Christoff or, in more present time, Sergei Leiferkus – and he sings more beautifully than either. Ein Fichtenbaum is dark and threatening, and Und wir dachten an der Toten – Liszt’s last song, is spine-chilling.
Andrew Kennedy’s plangent tone and keen delivery is also a pleasure to listen to, though his fortes tend to be rather hard. Heine’s Die Loreley, no doubt one of Liszt’s finest songs, is sung with fine sense for nuances, and the only English setting, Tennyson’s Go not, happy day is well vocalized. He also sings the sole Hungarian song, Isten veled!, beautifully and as far as I can tell, idiomatically. Heine’s Du bist wie eine Blume, which also Schumann set memorably, is beautifully melodious and draws some of the best singing from Kennedy.
We shouldn’t forget Iain Burnside. Not only is he a responsive accompanist on a level with Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles and Julius Drake, to mention three leading compatriots, but as far as I understand he is also the mastermind behind the programming and also the author of the excellent liner notes.
The recording is excellent and with a playing time of almost 80 minutes we are offered a lot of music for our money. Signum can be congratulated on another five star disc, which should be heard by every lover of songs.
BBC Music Magazine, December 2009
After leaving Hungary for Vienna at the age of 11, Liszt spent his remaining 60-odd years away from home, so he was a prime candidate for this musical travelogue, following on the success of the album Britten Abroad. A further incentive lies in the fact that Liszt’s songs are very little known, possible, as Iain Burnside says. Because ‘he stood outside the worlds of both French melodie and German Lieder’.
The 20 songs recorded here cover a vast range of language and expression, from the extraordinary wildness and drama of ‘Gastibelza’ to the rapt stillness of ‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’. Burnside is a faultless guide along this journey, exhibiting power when required but never forcing either tone or pace; and his pianissimo playing reminds me of Gerald Moore’s – I can think of no greater compliment. The singing too is exemplary, with Rebecca Evans’s floated high notes things of exquisite beauty. Matthew Rose, though recorded rather more distantly than his colleagues, takes every dramatic opportunity by the scruff, while Andrew Kennedy registers every shift of mood (the tiny ‘Morgens steh’ ich’ is a particular gem). I would caution only over his English ‘o’s – not quite ‘goo not, happy day’, but ‘cloose’. A tiny point, though, among so many delights.
International Record Review, June 2011
Liszt as polyglot is the theme of a superb disc titled ‘Liszt Abroad’ by the multi talented pianist lain Burnside, with soprano Rebecca Evans, tenor Andrew Kennedy and bass Matthew Rose. Here are songs in German, French, Italian, Hungarian and even the sole setting of an English poem, Tennyson’s Go not, happy day. These are wonderfully spirited performances: to listen to Evans’s inspired Petrarch sonnets is to melt.