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Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsodies

by Franz Liszt

Other authors: Franz Doppler (Orchestrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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George Enesco (1881–1955)
[1] Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 11 [12:02]

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
[2] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1 (No. 14 for piano) [10:47]
[3] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (No. 2 for piano) (arr. Matthey) [9:41]
[4] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3 (No. 6 for piano) [8:25]
[5] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4 (No. 12 for piano) [10:40]
[6] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 (No. 5 for piano) “Héroïde Elégiaque” [10:10]
[7] Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 (No. 9 for piano) “Carnaval in Pesth” [12:12]

London Symphony Orchestra
Antal Dorati

Recorded: 6/1960, Wembley Town Hall, London (1, 3, 4); 7/1963 (2, 5-7), Watford Town Hall, Hertfordshire; England.

Mercury Living Presence, 1991. 73:50. Liner notes by Halsey Stevens, Gene Bruck and Harold Lawrence.


Hermann Scherchen needn’t have bothered. The recording of the six Hungarian rhapsodies he made for Westminster in 1959 was totally eclipsed only four years later by Antal Dorati and Mercury Living Presence.

At first glance, looking at the timings alone, one is apt to dismiss Dorati out of hand. The man’s more than ten minutes faster than Scherchen – who is fast enough, Liszt knows! But timings don’t tell the whole truth. Dorati’s conducting here is indeed breathless and blistering, that much is true. But it’s also infinitely better paced and better balanced than Scherchen’s. Not a single phrase, even in the wildest moments, is distorted. Not a single climax, even the loudest one, is noisy or crude. I may disagree intellectually with some of Dorati’s ideas after the piece is over, but while I am listening I am emotionally convinced in his approach – and that’s all that matters. Dorati even gets away with a much faster tempo than usual in the sublime Héroïde Elégiaque, one of the very few rhapsodies that do not conform to the classic slow-fast (lassú-friska) pattern and the only one I do prefer in its orchestral guise. (Truth to tell, Karajan’s 1975 recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker blows away both Scherchen and Dorati!)

Of course the sound helps! Quite simply, it is incredible. I mean this in its literal sense, “impossible to believe”. Even Decca seldom achieved, then or later, such vividness and dynamic range as did Mercury on regular basis in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The phrase “living presence” is not empty advertising as so often happens with record labels. You do feel as if you were present live in a large concert hall with fine acoustics. It requires a solid imagination to believe you’re listening to a recording made well over 50 years ago.

My only quibble with this recording is the use of cymbalom now and then. Charmingly Hungarian as this instrument may be, its sound doesn’t blend too well with the rest of the orchestra. I don’t remember to have heard it on other recordings of these same pieces. I wonder if the two Franzes (Liszt and his pupil Doppler) mentioned it in the scores as alternative ad libitum.* Never mind.

Enesco’s Roumanian Rhapsody is a very nice bonus track, very much in the same tradition of contagious tunes, colourful orchestration, slow first section and smashing finale. Dorati again makes the London Symphony sound like the greatest virtuoso orchestra in the world and the sound is again deeper and more realistic than anything you’ll ever hear on record. What a feast for the ears! What a balm for the soul!

In short, a perfect disc that every self-respecting fan of symphonic music must have – if only for showing off his audio equipment. The music may be not “deep” or “serious” enough for the highbrows. But, boy, is it fun!

* It remains a matter of speculation how much of the orchestration was done by Franz Doppler (1821–1883), a flute virtuoso and popular at the time composer, and how much by Liszt himself. The orchestral transcriptions of the six rhapsodies date from the late 1850s (1857–60) when Liszt had ceased to use any collaborators, or rather copyists, for his orchestration. He certainly needed no assistance in the matter, as evident for instance from the orchestral version of Mephisto Waltz No. 1 which is scored with sonorous virtuosity that Berlioz himself would have been proud of.

The most likely scenario is that Doppler did prepare the first versions of the orchestrations, but Liszt revised them thoroughly later; all significant changes from the piano originals probably stemmed from Liszt himself. Humphrey Searle has suggested by quoting Walter Bache, a long-term pupil and friend of Liszt’s, that Doppler had nothing to do with the final versions but his name was put on the printed score as one of those numerous kindly gestures of promotion done by Liszt for other composers (The Music of Liszt, Dover, 1966, p. 45). The printed score, incidentally, bears the inscription “arranged by the composer and F. Doppler” (bearbeitet vom Componisten und F. Doppler). See also Jay Rosenblatt who provides some valuable information about the autograph scores in the Library of Congress (The Liszt Companion, ed. Ben Arnold, Greenwood Press, 2002, p. 322; on p. 239 Michael Saffle wrongly refers to the same Doppler as “Ferdinand”). ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 22, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Liszt, Franzprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doppler, FranzOrchestratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dorati, AntalConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Israel Philharmonic OrchestraOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
London Symphony OrchestraOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mehta, ZubinConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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