Liszt – Harmonies Patriotiques et Religieuses
Hunnia Records HRCD2101 (evapolgar.com)
In contrast to Liszt-the-magician-of-the-keyboard’s turbulent side of his heyday, this interesting new recording shows his quiet and contemplative persona. It came about that the aging Liszt, disappointed that by order of Pope Pius IX he was unable to marry his beloved Princess Carolyne, a divorcee, he took religious vows and withdrew to a monastery near Rome. He actually lived in a cell with minimal furnishings and an old beat-up piano with the middle D key missing.
Eva Polgar, a very talented and celebrated Hungarian pianist praised for her intelligent interpretations and emotional power, here performs pieces that resonate with the deep-seated Catholicism and patriotic aspect of Liszt’s late works. This new style is most noticeable by strange unearthly harmonic progressions bordering on the atonal, like the very first piece, Sursum Corda Erhebet eure Hertzen (Lift up your Hearts) and the Coronation Mass, composed for the coronation of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Religion notwithstanding, his love for his homeland is manifest in the Hungarian Rhapsodies, here represented (and gracefully performed) by No.11 a quiet, gentle piece that only turns into a lively Hungarian dance at the very end.
Liszt’s wandering around the Eternal City inspired some works I love most on this album, namely Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, an impressionistic piece depicting the play of water of the hundreds of beautiful fountains of the unbelievable Baroque gardens of Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Another lovely piece, Legend No.1, is where St. Francis of Assisi preaches to the birds, an exercise of trills and a real test for the flying fingers of our master pianist.