It was billed as a battle of titans. Liszt, Franz had invited the leading pianists of his time to compose variations on Bellini’s “March of the Huguenots.” The international keyboard stars Chopin, Thalberg, Pixis, Czerny, and Herz had agreed to compete, but they never actually performed together in Princess Beliojoso’s Paris salon. Tanski, Claudius has now recreated this event with his master pupils. Unlike Liszt 175 years ago, he collaborates on equal terms with this circle of brilliant young stars emulating their immortal models with sovereignty and grandeur.
Best and Brightest
The aim behind Liszt’s extraordinary project was to display the piano at its best and with all its potential. And his fellow composers did not disappoint him: much here belongs to the best that these authors ever committed to paper. We find breathtaking cascades, chords towering up to heaven, and absolutely wild keyboard acrobatics. Chopin’s “Largo,” just prior to the end of the cycle, however, suggests absolutely supernatural modesty; and Liszt, whose greatest virtuosic successes were already behind him, opens the door just enough to let in an inkling of the impressionistic harmonies that would mark his late oeuvre.
Varied and Vibrant
Tanski, Claudius himself was able to win a wide range of artistic personalities for his project. Blanchard, Johann, Buche, Leon, Goicoechea, Carlos, Sorieux, Caroline, and Kanako Yoshikane present the “Hexameron” with vibrant virtuosity and a profound and nuanced understanding of the individual qualities of the variations, which are also reflected in the supplemental compositions. Buche, Leon dares to engage in a tightrope act: in his sumptuous “Elegy” he quite naturally combines motifs from the “Hexameron” with Serge Gainsbourgh’s “Je t’aime.”
It is hardly surprising that the salon performance never materialized – Liszt’s insistence on the leadership role stood in the way. And now the sweepstakes question: Who is the best? You can play judge and jury while listening to this recording in 222 multichannel technique and with a Steinway concert grand piano in top form. Need a precedent? Perhaps the Princess’s diplomatic and Solomonic judgment during a little summit meeting will be of help: Thalberg was the first, and Liszt was the one and only. So here it is now: a historic moment in multigenre pianistic virtuosity in all its glory!