Franz Liszt: Piano Concertos n° 1 in E-Flat & n° 2 in A – Totentanz – Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes
Nareh Arghamanyan (Piano), Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, Alain Altinoglu (Conductor)
Recording: Haus des Rundfunks, RBB Berlin (April 2012) – 72’24
PentaTone classics #PTC 5186 397 – Booklet in English, German and French
Young and rising star Nareh Arghamanyan has had the most incredible introduction to piano. The Eurasian country of Armenia was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1989, the year she was born. It was during the post events that Arghamanyan’s mother placated the young child’s unsettledness by introducing piano as a divertissement that began innocently without lessons. Quite rapidly this entrée to life turned into one of those remarkable stories. At the age of 23 Nareh Arghamanyan is now wowing audiences worldwide, making debuts with accomplished international orchestras, and her successes continue to grow.
PentaTone’s CD turns to three separate categories within the Franz Liszt register: two piano concertos, a Gregorian plainchant-based score and a rhapsodic variation. Nareh Arghamanyan’s performance is on the cutting edge of remarkable clarity. Perhaps the tumultuous events and acerbic responses stemming from native countrymen can help explain the determination, feistiness and undiminished confidence of Arghamanyan’s display within this all-Liszt recording. This young woman transfers Liszt’s mercurial expressions onto keys with compelling grasp. Having endured hardships early on has proved beneficial for Nareh Arghamanyan. Her tone and atmospheric pressure are fulfilling and flavorful.
In the opening segment of the Piano Concerto N° 1 in E-Flat (“Allegro maestoso, tempo giusto”) Arghamanyan’s runs are fluent, the arpeggios light; the triangle/piano dialogue is not too fast nor too slow. The final “Allegro marziale animato” is delicate, yet perky and energized. This compendium has a musical complexion that keeps on ticking.
A fascination with death while at the same time being inspired by Francesco Traini’s fresco, “Triumph of Death”, provided substantial foundation for Liszt’s Totentanz. Each of the six variations takes on its own degree of character: the initiating bars of “Andante – allegro” sound strikingly similar to Mussorgsky’s dirge-like “Goldenberg and Schmuÿle” (Pictures at an Exhibition), a glissando-driven 1st and 2nd, dominant repeated notes in the 3rd, a pious/canonic 4th, the 5th with tinges of a Grieg/Rachmaninoff/Chopin triumvirate and a Beethoven trumpeted opening to the 6th that comes to a conclusive climax with connections to Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Though Johannes Verhulst’s conducting of Totentanz on April 15, 1865 was deemed “pitifully bad” by soloist Hans von Bülow, Liszt would have been delighted by the Altinoglu/Arghamanyan pairing with its fiery fireworks and dynamic outcome.
The middle portioned “czifra” from Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Noº 14 for Piano has Nareh Arghamanyan playing punctiliously. It is here that the soloist most poignantly demonstrates a Liszt awareness for even the most advanced classical music enthusiast to enjoy: repeated staccatos are dead on, the nimbleness breathtaking.
Neither fast nor too slow in tempo, Nareh Arghamanyan does great justice to these masterpieces, and it is a fitting tribute to the famed 20th century Hungarian composer.