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Byron Janis: Liszt Piano Concertos No. 1 & 2

David Maine

Transcendent music released on CD for the first time suggests that maybe something good came out of the Cold War after all

Byron Janis

Liszt Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Label: Newton Classics
US Release Date: 2011-04-26
UK Release Date: Import

In June 1962, at the frostiest height of the Cold War (the Bay of Pigs invasion had taken place only 14 months earlier), Soviet piano virtuoso Byron Janis recorded a set of compositions by Franz Liszt, whose technically demanding pieces were perfect for Janis's skillful dexterity. The Piano Concerto no. 1 in E flat alternates between full-on orchestral bombast, tender melodicism and playful finger-work. The Piano Concerto no. 2 in A is equally demanding, with twice as many movements (six) as the other piece, and a concurrent increase in mood shifts, not to mention a dizzying array of arpeggios. Through it all, Janis handles the material masterfully. These recordings, remastered and released on CD for the first time, reveal the material's exquisite nuance and Janis's own impeccable interpretation—strong without being melodramatic, tender without being saccharine.

The Moscow Philharmonic and Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra provide more-than-capable support, and the disc features bonus pieces by Schumann, Manuel de Falla and David Guion. Even for casual listeners of classical piano music, such as myself, this recording is a joy.


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