On the Liszt

Lucy Parham - Odyssey of Love: The Bury Festival, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Ivan Howlett

Lucy Parham - Odyssey of Love: The Bury Festival, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Franz Liszt, I learned in fascinating detail just how, shared his obsession for the piano with equally strong and warring passions for religion and women. Ken Russell's 1975 film Lisztomania had depicted him as the first classical pop star. This show doesn't deny that but corrects the context

This is a words and music entertainment devised by the pianist Lucy Parham with two actors, Joanna David and Martin Jarvis, narrating and reading all the parts. The pianist herself played thirteen Liszt pieces - most of them fiendishly difficult - from the music written in his youth to the sombre last works.


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There's always a place for such a show in an arts festival. For me, it filled a gap in my knowledge, drawing heavily as it did on the letters written between Liszt and the two main women in his life. Liszt had rather fallen below my radar, partly because my stubby fingers could never play more than a few bars of his music. He was the greatest pianist of his day, perhaps the greatest ever, and it's virtuoso stuff from first to last.

So I was interested to find out the details of his relationship with the two aristocratic women. They were the independent-minded French Countess Marie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children. Their marriage couldn't withstand either his constant touring or his constant philandering. The second most important woman was the off-the wall cigar-smoking Russian Princess, Carolyne von Sayn Wittgenstein, a sister of the Tsar.

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It was she became his true inspiration, persuading him to give up his concert career for composing. The show includes the touching account of her trip to Rome to get papal permission for their marriage, but which fell through at the last moment

The evening isn't perfect. It has an undirected feel about it, as if two good actors had a read-through, and rely on their individual skills. The stage just had the grand piano in the middle with two chairs, far apart on either side. Not much thought in that.

However, this is a quality read show. There is no better reader, nor radio actor than Martin Jarvis and it was pleasure to see him at work.

Lucy Parham, a fine exponent of Liszt, gave a virtuoso piano performance of power, passion and accuracy.

Oh, one thing I didn't know. Liszt visited Bury, went on to Norwich but returned because of the ladies of Bury.

Ivan Howlett

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