Liszt Szymanowski Schumann Moment of Eternity Genuin

Moment of Eternity
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Deux Légendes, S.175 (1863)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Masques, Op.34 (1916)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Carnaval, Op.9 (1837)
Minsoo Hong (piano)
rec. 2022, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Genuin GEN23827 [69]

In an introductory note the performer, Minsoo Hong, explains how the concept for this album emerged from the stress of experiencing the lockdown imposed because of Covid 19. He decided that, ‘My solution was fantasy’. The exploration of these composers’ works ‘made me feel the moment of eternity’. The disc open with the two pieces that Liszt wrote about the two saints who shared his Christian name, St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds and St Francis of Paola walking on the waters. I must confess to having considerable reservations about Liszt’s piano music; the combination of sometimes appalling technical difficulty with often, although not invariably, a distinct lack of emotional depth I find unappealing. Weighed against that are works such as the Sonata in B minor, which is without doubt a masterpiece and the Sonate: Après une lecture de Dante, which is its equal, but is heard far less often.

Minsoo Hong’s technical mastery seems to be of the highest order, but what was most striking was the large range of colour that he brought particularly to the opening pair of items. The varying shades of quiet tone in the opening couple of pages of the first piece mean that when the contrasting louder passages occur the contrast seems to be enormous; Liszt’s portrayal of the forces of nature while the saint walks upon the waves is extraordinarily vivid.

Szymanowski’s elusive Masques, Op.34 is another extended exercise in tonal colour for which a most refined degree of delicacy is needed, given that the majority of the music is, again, quiet. The composer’s approach seems to be to depict somewhat sidelong glances at the figures of Schéhérazade, Tristan and Don Juan, not full portraits, yet the very sophisticated piano writing succeeds in achieving the composer’s goal. Minsoo Hong seems alive to all the subtleties of these frankly pictorial pieces. The notes quote the poet Jean Paul, a favourite of Robert Schumann, as saying that ‘a masked ball would probably offer the best opportunity to characterise life in a literary manner.’ Carnaval portrays real people who were significant to the young Schumann, notably both Chopin and Paganini, but also figures from the Commedia dell’arte, such as Pierrot, Arlequin and Columbine. Clara Wieck appears as Chiarina. Perhaps more significantly, in view of what was to happen to Schumann in later life, he offers pictures of the two contrasted side of his own personality, the defiant and pugnacious Florestan and the lyrical and dreamy Eusebius.

For a composer’s first attempt at a large-scale work for solo piano, Carnaval is a remarkable production. Minsoo Hong is equal to all challenges whether technical, emotional or psychological. A considerable achievement and a most satisfying recital which can be enjoyed at one sitting. The recorded sound is excellent and the very wide dynamic range is very well captured. An excellent disc.

Martyn Strachan

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