Liszt: Etudes d’execution transcendente (Naxos)
★★★★ (out of five)
If you live in the age of Heifetz, a great violinist once told me, you need to find a different angle. Knowing that there is one guy who can play faster, flashier and more precisely than anyone else, all others have to find ways to adjust, either with an alternative repertoire, or with a friendlier public image.
That recipe remains true today for pianists living in the age of Daniil Trifonov who has, by common consent, a technique and intelligence that run like Usain Bolt several paces ahead of the pack. Among those who find a way to stay in touch is the 2013 Reine Elisabeth winner Boris Giltburg, who appears to be every bit as thoughtful as Trifonov and, of necessity, twice as ingenious.
Giltburg supplies an unusually coherent booklet essay with this appealing set of the Liszt études, explaining both their technical difficulty and their innate popular appeal. His playing is every bit as approachable, moulding the mountain of notes into a romantic narrative and managing even the extra bits that Liszt inserted for pianists of exceptional range. This kind of storytelling is very much in vogue — Trifonov does something similar with the Chopin études — but I have not heard it applied so effectively in Liszt as Giltburg does.
He bookends the set with two crowd-pleasers — the Rigoletto concert fantasy and ‘La leggierezza’ — both of which need to smile a bit more. But Giltburg is beyond doubt a major artist and the sound he gets out of a Fazioli on a remote Welsh estate will quite take your breath away.
Does anyone still play a Steinway?