Asher Fisch Liszt Wagner Paraphrases

10/08/2012
Lucas Irom
Classique News (France)

Destined for the Romantic era salon, paraphrases and pots pourri allowed the amateur listener to experience the full lyrical thrill of the opera house. There are the first dizzying swirls and evanescent lyricism of the opening scene from Meistersinger, a flamboyant yet diaphanous hymn to Art; the melody, light and full of spirited feminine insouciance, inspired by the spinning chorus from The Flying Dutchman; the piano reaching the orchestral heights so hoped for by Baudelaire in the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser. Listeners receive their money’s worth here through the splendour of the tableaux and the grandeur and emotional intensity of the scenes conjured up in this almost cinematic recital. Like Gérôme in painting, Wagner enlarged more than any other composer the space and range of musical experience. And Liszt completely understood all of these intentions in sound.

Liszt transposes Wagner – enchanting paraphrases…

Filtered and recomposed by his contemporary, the dexterous piano playing machine Franz Liszt, Wagner’s originality is sublimely honed in this pianistic reimagining of the highest flight. More recompositions, really, than clever and respectful transcriptions, Liszt’s writing understands, reinvents and comments with a richness and remarkable freedom. It manages a balance between the interiority, poetic expression and fluid virtuosity which is superbly right. One has only to listen to the Evening Star from Tannhäuser. Never has the inspiration of the great Liszt, that demon of stentorian keyboard recitals, been more imaginative and immediately subservient to Wagner’s intentions. What a tribute to his admired fellow musician and son-in-law.  One understands why Liszt’s admirers wished to hear the opera itself, so full of marvellous melodies. This is also a Liszt who, as composer, re-envisions the sound world invented by Wagner. The Liebestod paraphrase from Tristan and Isolde reveals how Franz was capable of recomposing Wagner, in pure recreative admiration. It is a miracle which issues forth through the nuanced and spiritual pianism of Asher Fisch.        

Asher Fisch recorded a sumptuous Australian tetralogy for Melba . . . He confirms here his certain and indisputable affinities with the great Richard; an elegance of gesture and a shifting subtlety in applying masterly dynamic control explain the success of this superb Wagnerian recital. It is, in a way, a first act of homage prefiguring the Wagner anniversary in 2013 that promises many anticipated performances and recordings.

The conductor, a Wagnerian to the fingertips, pays irresistible homage to Wagner and to Liszt who was a devotee to the younger man from the first moment. The entrance of the guests to Wartburg shows an eloquent mastery of expressive contrasts, a lesson in brilliant and invested pianism, never hollow or superficial, replete with good ideas, a tender and quick silver demonstration of interpretive energy. What fire and what intoxication of nuance! All the more noteworthy in this piece which forms the apex in the program. It is almost 11 minutes of an uninterrupted single breath.

This scrupulously conceived recital program knows just how to bring to the fore the Wagnerian élan and elegance that is refracted through the Lisztian touch. In each selection there is a reciprocal exchange between the Wagnerian source material and the Lisztian response. This is, then, much more than just a random recital of Wagnerian piano pieces.

Lovers of extremely rare piano music will be absolutely delighted that Asher Fisch thought also to include rarities for piano by the experimental, walking on a knife edge Wagner like his Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen. This is a veritable musical poem, allusively fine, that magnifies its animal pretext. Here Wagner makes his own transcription, recycling the famous Tristan chord from the opera which, in 1861, he had only recently finished composing. It is “an inversion of the half diminished chord, made of a perfect fourth superimposed over a tritone interval” as the expert pianist justly puts it. The magical formula for the music of the future.          

A remarkable release, then, as appreciable for its liner notes (including an extensive essay written by the artist, translated into French) as for the natural and finely balanced sound, like the majority of the recordings from the manifestly inspired Australian label, Melba.

An absolute favourite CD from the summer of 2012