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Faust Symphony [recordings] by Franz Liszt

Faust Symphony [recordings]

by Franz Liszt

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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Eine Faust-Symphonie

[1] I. Faust [27’10’’]
[2] II. Gretchen [18’53’’]
[3] IIIa. Mephistopheles [9’50’’]
[4] IIIb. Conclusion (original version) [6’10’’]
[5] IIIc. Conclusion with Chorus Mysticus [11’27’’]

Hans-Peter Blochwitz, tenor
Hungarian Radio Chorus
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer

Recorded: 6/1996, Italian Institute, Budapest.

Philips, 1997. [TT ca 74 min.] Liner notes by Max Harrison and Iván Fischer.


I now like this recording more than I used to when I first heard it. Though by no means among my top choices, Fischer’s rendition is brisk yet sensitive, accomplished in the tricky passages that require controlled excess, and decently recorded. But, all the same, what makes this recording unique is the inclusion of both endings, the seldom recorded original version without chorus (only Noseda’s recording includes this one) and the so-called “Chorus Mysticus” for choir and solo tenor added by Liszt a few years later (and included on virtually every recording). Strangely, however, the two conclusions are, so far as I can hear, quite the same for the first five minutes or so; I don’t see the point of including this passage twice, but never mind. For my part, the choral version is much the better one and I think it was a stroke of genius on Liszt’s part to set the last eight lines of Goethe’s Faust. It’s fascinating to compare both endings, but I find misleading Fischer’s claim, in a short essay in the booklet, that the “choice changes the concept of the whole symphony”. It doesn’t. The revised conclusion merely reinforces the original one. Equally misleading are Wagner’s words, again quoted in the booklet, that the original conclusion is “gratifyingly tender”. It isn’t. After the ethereal reminiscence of “Gretchen”, which is retained in the revised ending, the original concludes with a triumphant reference to Faust much shorter, but only slightly less grandiose, than the choral afterthought. ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 7, 2017 |
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Eine Faust-Symphonie

[1] I. Faust [29’01’’]
[2] II. Gretchen [18’38’’]
[3] III. Mephistopheles – Schlußchor [22’31’’]

Lajos Kozma, tenor
Chor und Orchester des Royal Concertgebouw
Antal Dorati

[Recorded: 1982, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Live?]

Philips, 1994. 1.10.28. Liner notes by Tomas Kahlcke (Ger).


This is a mightily disappointing recording, unexpectedly so considering the illustrious names involved. Even if it is a completely unedited live performance, this can hardly explain the slack conducting and the flat, distant sound. Antal Dorati (1906–1988) was not exactly a young man at the time, but age is seldom damaging (and often beneficial) to the elusive craft of the orchestral conductor. Three years later, in 1985, Dorati made a fine, rather slow but eloquent, recording of Christus with Hungarian forces. Ironically enough, his “Gretchen” here is certainly too fast. The outer movements are well-paced, but the mighty climaxes in “Faust” are so shoddy, and the malicious bite of “Mephistopheles” so absent, that I am frankly baffled a conductor of Dorati’s stature could be responsible for them, and with one of the world’s top orchestras to boot. To make things perfect(ly dreadful), Lajos Kozma is perfectly unable to negotiate the demands of his part. The presentation is right down there with the performance. The liner notes (in German only) are decent for the price, but the complete lack of recording details is deplorable. My conjecture that this is a live recording is based on the applause after the end; the year “1982” is tentatively suggested here and there online. Browsing the Web idly, I am surprised that this recording has gathered a number of positive reviews. One of them calls the performance “thrillingly demonic”. (Ha, that’s a good one!) I cannot join the Praise Chorus. Absolutely dispensable stuff! ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 7, 2017 |
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

A Faust Symphony

[1] I. Faust [28’42]
[2] II. Gretchen [21’17]
[3] III. Mephistopheles – Final Chorus* [23’29]

John Aler, tenor*
Mužský Sbor Sl’ovenskej Fil’harmonie, Bratislava*
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
James Conlon

Recorded: 11/1983, De Doelen, Rotterdam.

Warner, 2004. 73'43. Liner notes by Warner Classics.


Just like his Dante Symphony, recorded at about the same time and for the same label (Erato), Jimmy Conlon’s Faust is compromised by indifferent sound. Its depth and fidelity are unworthy of a digital recording – but at least it has a decent dynamic range, unlike Dante which has none. Some of the brass and woodwind playing is notably below par as well, though it’s hard to say how much of this is due to orchestral sloppiness and how much to some novel effect Conlon didn’t quite bring off. For his interpretation is highly original and, in its own way, very convincing, even compelling. Too bad we cannot hear it in all of its splendour, but let me not be too prickly about that. The sound is good enough to appreciate Conlon’s nuanced portrait of Faust, exquisite balance in the chamber-like “Gretchen” (a difficult thing few conductors achieve) and vivid impression of Mephistopheles, a mocking jester on the surface but something rather more frightening beneath. Jimmy Conlon remains, to my mind, an underrated conductor, especially in Liszt (he also recorded Christus with the same forces). You could do a lot worse with your introduction to the Faust Symphony, and with a lot bigger names at that. The Warner presentation is indifferent, with ugly cover art and superficial liner notes, but this is to be expected considering the price. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Nov 2, 2016 |
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

A Faust Symphony
In three Character Portraits, after Goethe

[1] I. Faust [27.59]
[2] II. Gretchen [18.31]
[3] III. Mephistopheles – Final Chorus [22.10]

Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor
Groot Omroepkoor NOB mens’ voices
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly

Recorded: 3/1991, Grotezaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Decca, 1993. 68.40. Liner notes by Barry Millington.


There are two basic ways to listen to classical music. One is to concentrate on the number of works, the other on the number of performances. The first is called “exploring neglected masterpieces” and the second “improving the appreciation by comparative listening” by their respective admirers. Both are limited and ultimately, I believe, harmful ways. Exploring forgotten works and composers may well lead you to find genius where there is nothing more than industry. Comparative listening, when more than five or six recordings are considered, easily degenerates into comparing tiny details of little value. Then again, perhaps it doesn’t really matter so long as one harmlessly enjoys oneself. Still, I think the wisest way is the one that strikes a balance between the extremes. I have tried to follow this way, but for a variety of reasons, temperamental, temporal and financial, I have of course failed.

The Faust Symphony is one of the very few exceptions when I have indulged in comparative listening. It is a vast and difficult work, I thought, capable of infinite variety of interpretations, and the more performances I explore, the better. I have amassed as many recordings of it as I could – 19 by the last count – and guess what I’ve found listening to all of them for years? It’s not worth it. Four or five, maybe six, are those I return to regularly. All of the rest I have listened to no more than two or three times. If I return to them at all today, it is only to indulge my futile passion for writing reviews.

Riccardo Chailly falls in that category, alas. Not my favourite conductor by any means, as I have stated more than once in reviews, but I was ready to give him as unprejudiced a trial as possible. Miracles in this department have been known to happen. Not this time. By no means is this a bad recording, but if I still keep it on (one of my least accessible) shelves, it is for “research purposes”. In other words, because Chailly’s attention to detail and the splendid sound in which he is recorded are excellent opportunities to study Liszt’s masterful orchestration and counterpoint. My chief criticism to Chailly has to do with his timidity, especially – but not only – in the mighty climaxes which he insists on conducting as if the hall is full of sleeping children he doesn’t want to wake. This robs the music of much of its intensity and power. Faust’s anguish and doubt are reduced to trifles. The sinister laughter of that eternal jester, Mephistopheles, sounds more like a lame practical joke. It all makes for a rather monotonous listening.

The playing of Concertgebouw is as good as it gets, though not superior to the best you can get in Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Philadelphia and even London. The choir and the tenor in the finale are superb, singing with perfect enunciation and compelling lyricism. The sound simply cannot be bettered: the final explosion of the organ is stupendous! Barry Millington is a Wagner specialist, but he is knowledgeable enough to write a fine essay for the booklet, and he did. The cover art is fine, too, ingenious and diabolically suggestive. In short, everything is perfect – except Chailly’s essentially tepid approach. And that ruins everything. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Nov 1, 2016 |
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Eine Faust-Symphonie

[1] I. Faust [25:09]
[2] II. Gretchen [19:08]
[3] III. Mephistopheles [16:03]
[4] "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis" [6:51]

Vinson Cole, tenor [4]
Staatsopernchor Dresden [4]
Staatskapelle Dresden
Giuseppe Sinopoli

[Recorded: 1997, Semperoper, Dresden?]

Eloquence, n.d. 67:11.


Considerable disappointment. ( )
  Waldstein | Sep 23, 2015 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Franz Lisztprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barenboim, Danielconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bernstein, Leonardconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chailly, Riccardoconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conlon, Jamesconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dorati, Antalconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fischer, Ivánconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horenstein, Jaschaconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ligeti, Andrasconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muti, Riccardoconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rattle, Simonconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sinopoli, Giuseppeconductormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aler, Johntenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blochwitz, Hans Petertenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boston Symphony Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bressler, Charlestenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Budapest Festival Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlinchorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Choral Art Societychoirsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cole, Vinsontenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Domingo, Placidotenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Groot Omroepkoor NOBchorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, Maxliner notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hungarian Radio Chorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hungarian State Choirsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koch, Ferdinandtenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kozma, Lajostenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Millington, Barryliner notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchinson, Johntenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Molnar, Andrastenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muzky Sbor Sl'ovenskej Fil'harmoniechorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Badensecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestra of the Ferenc Liszt Academysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philadelphia Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philharmonic, New Yorkorchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philharmoniker, Berlinerorchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riegel, Kennethtenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seiffert, Petertenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staatcopernchor Dresdenchoirsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staatskapelle Dresdenorchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanglewood Festival Chorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
The Men's Voices of the BBC Northern Singerschoirsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westminster Choir College Male Chorussecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winbergh, Göstatenorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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