It would appear that Franz Liszt’s transcription for Ludwig van Beethoven
’s 9th Symphony in D minor has been abandoned since its premiere in 1853. 150 years or so later and the work has been allowed without any resistance to re-enter the classical realm. Both 2007 and 2008 allowed for its music to be released on the compact disc, and both showed that we’ve been missing out in the beautiful sonorities that Liszt was capable of achieving with pianos in full march. Close friends Johannes Brahms
and Clara Schumann
endorsed the work with much enthusiasm, performing it on the latter’s 22nd birthday in 1855. However within years it became yet another transcription forgotten amid a surplus of Beethoven translations. With Liszt meeting the task with sheer reluctance, the music generated is some of the most daring and expansive in his catalogue. Tackling this masterpiece was not going to be one in which would be met with great enthusiasm from Beethoven devotees nor was it going to be as simple as compacting the music into four staves. Although Beethoven certainly would have scored much of his symphony while confided in the piano, the intensity of its performance through the orchestra and chorus is how the work was intended to be experienced in 1824. Despite successfully showing that his solo piano transcription methods were apt for the eight preceding symphonies making the choice to translate the work for two pianos appears to be, even in today’s environment, to have been a good one.
Evidently, within the first movement, Liszt shows that his method of approach isn’t to blatantly reforge harmony and turn it out into blazing runs of descents and cadences. Both pianos are scored to represent the tentativeness of the woodwind, shrieking force of the brass and the subtlety of the strings. It’s technical, but beautifully restrained behind a sensibility that evokes his admiration for the composer himself. The careful and occasional cheerfulness of this moment in musical history seems almost designed for the piano through Liszt’s melodic lens – so much that it takes little time for one to forget that the orchestra is on strike and has left two pianos to journey with grace and momentum in space. Even more evocative are the second and final movements; the former utilising the sensitive staccato and clever voicing over the second piano’s mortar between the bricks. It’s impressive enough to be almost flawless, however, where the music does run into problems like upturned stones in a torrent, is the occasional over emphasis on the solitary position each piano faces. While these issues are smooth and rounded, they do offer a place for purists to gnaw on – as well as being areas for the performers of such work to maintain strict dynamic continuity towards. The third movement in scherzo form, lacks these issues as it’s filled with spacious harmony as it moves measurably between its own themes, as well as precluding the epic display in the Finale, which is vivid and exhilarating as the choral force is redrawn within the clang and warmth of a powerful chordal display, taking those listing along with it. “Ode to Joy!” Yells the piano.
Naxos 8.570466 Piano: Leon McCawley & Ashley Wass (2008)
Nessa 2958 Piano: Matthew Kim & Paul Kim (2007)