Liszt: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 3 (CD review)

Michael Halasz, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557846.

Franz Liszt wrote thirteen tone poems, and between 1997 and 2007 conductor Michael Halasz recorded all of them for Naxos. This is the third volume of the material, containing the poems Festlange, Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne ("What is heard on the mountain"), and Hunnenschlacht ("Battle of the Huns"). Halasz and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra perform all of them competently, and Naxos record them fairly well.

Things begin with Festlange, a lengthy, festive overture more than a symphonic poem but appropriate for getting the album off to a zippy start. Halasz handles it well, with plenty of contrast and color. The poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne is too long for its own good at nearly half an hour, as it tries to convey something about the voice of Nature clashing with the voice of Man. It's a noble sentiment that applies as much as or more today than in Liszt's time, but it gets weighted down with too much excess, redundant baggage.

Far more concise, vivid, and descriptive is Hunnenschlacht, based on a fresco by Wilhelm von Kaulbach depicting the legendary battle between the Emperor Theodoric and Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome. It's a fiery concoction, and it is here that Halasz does his best, most-exciting, most-evocative work.

The Naxos sound comes up well, although it is a tad thick and billowy at times. Realistic, yes, probably; transparent, not really. The catch with this whole Naxos low-priced series is that we also have available Bernard Haitink's excellent renditions of the Liszt tone poems with the London Philharmonic at not much of a cost difference, actually, for even better performances and better sound.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa