Review: Liszt, Annees de Pelerinage, Louis Lortie, Snape Maltings, August 18

A performance comprising all three years of Liszt’s ground-breaking and visionary work in a single evening is a monumental task and not solely for the pianist. Yet a few longeurs not withstanding, the consistently brilliant and dynamic playing of Louis Lortie kept an attentive and hugely appreciative audience in thrall for three hours.

The first two years, Suisse and Italie, are the products of Liszt’s travels with Marie D’Agoult and are generally extrovert, often virtuosic pieces. Lortie went for the grand manner in the opening Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, exploiting to the full the powerful sonorities of the Fazoli piano. Au bord d’une source was beautifully realised – water, water everywhere and of the utmost delicacy.

Storms blew around both inside and out as Lortie unleashed the full terror of Orage. His fingerwork was faultless and he had complete control of the changes in tempo and dynamics. In Vallee d’Obermann he drew some wonderfully soft, distant sounds in the high registers.

The pieces of the third Annee were split either side of the interval and Lortie launched straight into this totally new sound world with almost no time for reflection, preparation or even physical movement. It was possibly a transition too far.

The pieces that opened the second half contained some striking moments and were superbly realised, notably the suggestive Hungarian atmosphere of Sunt lacrymae reru and the crashing end to Sursum corda. The final section, Italie, began with the calm, soothing harmonies of Sposalizio followed by the cheeky �lan of Salvator Rosa. Lortie’s impeccable memory and unerring feel for line and melody resulted in a melting performance of the Sonetto 123 del Petrarca.

And so the final Apres une lecture de Dante, a piece as technically and intellectually demanding as anything in the whole evening. After well over two hours and several thousand notes, Lortie looked as fresh and composed as ever as he embarked on his final lap. His reception was as tumultuous as the work’s ending and most thoroughly deserved.

Gareth Jones

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