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Liszt: Opera And Song For Solo Piano / Gabor Farkas

Release Date: 01/20/2017
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30065
Composer:  Franz Liszt Performer:  Gábor Farkas

Hungarian virtuoso Gábor Farkas performs a stunning recital of opera and song by Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Chopin and Schumann in formidable arrangements by Franz Liszt for solo piano.

Album Credits:

Recorded March 7-9, 2016 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sturm
Editing: Kazumi Umeda
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technician: Lauren Sturm
Piano: Steinway Model D #5199601 (Hamburg)


“From the word go you know you are in a safe
Read more pair of hands- not that Farkas is inclined to play it safe when it comes to tempi and the music’s more perilous passages- with a warm, velvety sound throughout his wide dynamic range, and an innate grasp of Liszt’s idiom.”

-- Gramophone

GABOR FARKAS/Liszt Opera and Song for Solo Piano: Ol’ Frankie (not blue eyes), gets an able, new champion in the hands of Farkas as he knows how to find the drama, tension and release in Liszt via Liszt’s arrangements of works for other august composers. One of those dead solid perfect records, it’s a wealth of riches for the classical fan here as Farkas has the smarts to give you an excursion into the familiar pointing out places you’ve never fully heard before. Quite the dazzling interpretation.

-- MidWest Record

Having been mightily impressed by an earlier Steinway release – that of Stewart Goodyear playing his arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker – I was more than a little curious to hear this new one. It features the Hungarian pianist Gábor Farkas (b. 1981), who graduated from the Liszt Academy, Budapest, in 2006. Two years later he won the International Liszt Piano Competition, and has since recorded several Liszt albums for Warner. I was interested to discover that one of his mentors was the late Zoltán Kocsis, who was so closely associated with the music of that other magnificent Magyar, Béla Bartók.

An added attraction of the Goodyear release was that it was recorded for Steinway by Sono Luminus, at their studios in Boyce, Virginia. SL certainly know how to record a piano; indeed, their recent album, America Again, was one of my top picks for 2016. This time Steinway have stayed in-house, but a quick listen suggests that this newcomer – engineered by Lauren Sturm – sounds just as accomplished.

I’ve long admired Craig Sheppard’s fine Warner-EMI account of the Liebestod, and that’s my benchmark here. In Farkas’s hands Wagner’s harmonic ambiguities are as startling as ever, the playing seamless and alive with detail. The recording is full, rich and beautifully balanced, the closing pages thrilling in their poise and cumulative power. If this were a live performance I’d expect the audience to leap to their feet in wild approbation. I still admire Sheppard’s Liebestod, but the Farkas is now my go to version of the piece. Yes, it really is that good.

In a recent online debate the consensus was that Liszt was better at arranging other people’s music than he was at writing his own. Perhaps, but after listening to Totentanz – originally written for piano and orchestra – such assertions seem barely credible. Farkas takes control of this diabolical dance from the outset, its swirl and thunder superbly realised by all concerned. Any caveats? Some of the quieter moments may seem a little studied, but otherwise this pianist’s control of touch and dynamics is masterly. As for the Dies irae – heard in many guises, some quite subtle – it’s nicely highlighted throughout.

Actually, the more I listened to Farkas’s Totentanz the more remarkable it seemed. This isn’t a wunderkind out to impress; no, there’s a certainty of shape and a depth of imagination to this man’s playing that speaks of a talent far beyond his years. That’s also true of the Faust paraphrase, where the waltz is given a gorgeous lilt and the music-box-like tinkle of what follows is so delicately done. Farkas is unfailingly articulate and proportionate, both here and in the themes from Verdi’s Aïda; in fact, the latter’s light- and life-extinguishing duetto final has never moved me this much before. So, feeling is most definitely part of this pianist’s repertoire, and that’s most welcome in music where technique is apt to dominate.

Farkas is adept and sensitive when it comes to miniatures as well; rarely have I heard the Chopin and Schumann so attractively scaled, their colours so subtly shaded. Fluidity and fluency are very much to the fore, every bar imbued with a lovely Romantic blush. The booklet essay is by Jens F. Laurson, who contributes to these pages from time to time. He doesn’t discuss the works played, but then this is one of those albums where all you need to do is listen.

Farkas is a first-class Lisztian; the recording is top-notch, too.

-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International

This collection of works, slightly inaccurately packaged as Opera and Song for Solo Piano, asks a lot from a pianist—and Hungarian Gábor Farkas, now in his middle 30s, emerges as one of those rare players who seemingly has it all. Even more impressive, he has the judgment to deploy it with tact. Once you’ve got the dexterity to dance through the minefield of Totentanz, for instance, it’s not easy to resist the temptation to break the strings while you’re at it; but while Farkas shows no technical weakness (listen to the crunch of the opening, the control of the glisses in the second variation, and the stunning clarity of the repeated notes at the beginning of the fifth), he doesn’t wallop the music. Similarly, once you’ve got the lyricism and the grace to convey the tentative tenderness at the beginning of “My Joys,” it’s not easy to resist the siren call of sentimentality; but seductive as he is, Farkas never lets the music turn mawkish. His range of color (including both timbre and articulation) is similarly impressive and similarly refined (try the filigree in “My Joys”), as is his attention to harmonic nuance (few handle the “orientalisms” of the Verdi with such beguiling charisma). As for rhythm: Whether in the snap of the dotted figures that launch the first variation of Totentanz or in the rubato of “Spring,” whether in the heartfelt pulse of “Widmung” or the improvisatory passion in the Liebestod, he responds unerringly to the music’s demands.

Perfect? Not quite. It takes a while for the Faust Waltz to warm up (although Farkas more than compensates for the slightly lumpy beginning with the utter transparency of the dreamier passages); and the first two of the Clara Schumann songs are marginally too straitlaced. But these are minor blemishes on an outstanding (and lustrously engineered) recital. Strongly recommended.

--Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare

Franz Liszt's renderings of music from other media for piano had various purposes. Some, like the Totentanz at the end of this program by Hungarian pianist Gábor Farkas, were virtuoso showpieces, while the "paraphrases" of operatic melodies heard here lay somewhere between virtuosity and a desire to favor an audience with familiar tunes of the day. Yet others show a more inward side of Liszt. Consider and sample the three versions of songs by Clara Schumann. What are they generically? More than transcriptions, surely, and more even than arrangements. They are almost like the large paraphrases without the virtuoso element. They almost have an exploratory quality, and the fact that Liszt, a hypermasculine figure, worked with the music of Clara Schumann -- not unknown, but not music in everyone's ears like the operatic paraphrases were -- is notable in itself. Farkas does very well with these. You can get a more rip-roaring Totentanz if you look around for one, but the subtle treatments of the song renderings here are delightful: they make it possible to imagine Liszt himself thinking his way through these pieces. Farkas is aided by fine engineering from the acoustically perfect Steinway Hall in New York, and in all this is one of the growing Steinway & Sons label's more satisfying releases.

-- AllMusic Guide

Gábor Farkas has several prize-winning Liszt releases to his credit, and the pianist’s all-Liszt Steinway & Sons debut gives further proof of his affinity for this composer’s aesthetic. In the paraphrase on the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, Farkas makes salient points through finely honed details such as the shading of chords and delicate, supple staccato runs. It differs from the lilting sweep and extroversion heard in other Faust paraphrase recordings by Thibaudet, Wild, and Petri, yet it convinces on its own terms.

The paraphrase on themes from Verdi’s Aida falls short of Claudio Arrau’s sonorous drama and long-lined phrasing, but the two Chopin song transcriptions (“Spring” and “My Joys”) are thoughtfully phrased and inflected. Farkas’ tone opens up more in the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod, and he shapes the tremolos in a way that minimizes their usual, clattery “silent movie” impact.

I like the simplicity and colorful understatement that Farkas brings to three rarely performed Clara Schumann song transcriptions, although his slightly underplayed rendition of the Robert Schumann/Liszt Widmung prevents the big tunes from soaring as they do in Van Cliburn’s altogether grander interpretation. Liszt’s solo version of Totentanz manages to fuse the original’s orchestral and solo parts with little effort or clutter, and Farkas’ effortless and clear textural delineation makes a compelling and plausible case for a transcription that usually sends pianists ducking for cover. That said, Arnaldo Cohen’s Naxos recording captures more of the music’s incendiary, swashbuckling nature; you only have to compare the rapid chordal leaps and upward interlocking octave passages to hear the difference. In all, Farkas is an intelligent and elegant Liszt stylist who knows how he wants this music to go, and I’m glad to hear him out, small reservations aside.


Adorned by a cover painting of a suave devil in red chapeau (unidentified) Farkas, graduate, and now professor, at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, offers a program of Liszt’s sometimes demonic transcriptions.

He does his late mentor, Zoltan Kocsis, proud and can boast of many competition awards. Liszt is not an easy composer to master, and to perform well one must have fully come to terms with all technical aspects of piano playing.

The Paraphrase on a Waltz from Gounod’s Faust opens the program followed by the Paraphrase from Verdi’s Aida. These are wrist-breaking pieces, designed for display. Farkas tries to be as musical as possible and seeks inner subtleties instead of just blasting forth at top speed with powerhouse digital control. Whether it works or not depends on what approach most satisfies the listener. There is a gentleness here and nothing is pushed to extremes.

Song transcriptions of Chopin and Clara Schumann bring sweet and unforced listening pleasure, and Isolde’s Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan is played with melting lyricism and liberal use of rubato. What it does not do is build relentlessly to its final release of pent-up emotion. It just floats you in a more subtle orgy of gorgeous sound.

Totentanz, the longest piece here, is everything we have been waiting for. Farkas holds nothing back as he explodes wildly in an effort to impart as much color as he can to this solo piano version of what was originally written with orchestra. Macabre and seemingly laughing at an encounter with death, it is an impressive meeting and exploitation of the Dies Irae. For this alone accolades are well deserved. Impressive sound.

-- American Record Guide

At one time, the music on this would have epitomized the “claptrap and vulgarity” that Liszt, the matinee idol, brought into the concert hall and turned him into something of a forerunner of rock stardom.

This is Liszt playing familiar favorites that a rocker would describe as “covers”—purposefully vulgarized paraphrases of songs, arias and concerti created by others who would have been unlikely to have cheapened them in this way: Gounud, Verdi, Chopin, Wagner, Robert and Clara Schumann, and, finally, Liszt’s wonderful imagined own tone poem “Todtendanz” (“Dance of Death”), his set of variations on the “Dies Irae” theme so loved by composers after Berlioz used it so majestically in his “Symphonie Fantastique.”

“Todtentanz” closes the disc. Usually, it’s performed in the piano and orchestra version where its effect can be as chillingly Satanic as any music ever performed in the concert hall. Without the orchestra, it isn’t the grand thing that pianists with great sounds (Byron Janis, say) can do with a conductor like Fritz Reiner. But it seems to be Farkas’ 21st century point that Liszt needs to be played without what movie folks might term “special effects.”

Would this have made adoring women swoon in salons and small recital halls in Liszt’s time? Hard to say. But this is nothing if not a sympathetic portrayal of a side of Liszt that doesn’t always get a lot of sympathy.

--The Buffalo News Read less