Gramophone Magazine - Editor's Choice, July 2009
£18 ex. VAT
Liszt - 'Années de Pèlerinage' - complete recording - Double CD
Deuxième Année: Italie
1. Aprés une lecture du Dante
Musical Pointers Website
These are stunning discs of music by one of my unfavourite composers. The effect of these works heard on a splendid Erard of 1851 will give everyone enjoyment and pause for thought. The piano "combines a silky mid-range with delicate, bell-like high notes and a bass of tremendous power". Listen to the Petrarch Sonnets as you've never heard them before.
This is an important double-disc which helps to support our conviction that the future for romantic, classical and pre-classical keyboard music lies with musicians who explore them on good period instruments, which should bring new insights even to those who prefer to stick by modern Steinways, as do many celebrity pianists and their audiences...
BBC Music Magazine. September 2009
Hearing these magnificent works performed on a period instrument amounts to a case of swings and roundabouts, but illuminatingly so. In the first two books, Liszt’s closely bunched bass-register chords need care on a modern piano to prevent them sounding too thick; here they balance themselves quite naturally. The instrument’s mellow resonance is a revealing resource (eg. conjuring wonderful echoing alphorns in Chapelle de Guillaume Tell). But the mid-treble register’s shortage of sustained singing tone is a surprise. And the later third book was surely written for something more powerful.
What this set is much more about is its exceptional performer. There isn’t a single dud among Daniel Grimwood’s interpretations. The best of them – Sposalizio, the Petrarch Sonnets, the two ‘Cypress Threnodies’ – match the finest I’ve heard anywhere. He has all the virtuoso velocity and firepower, and then some, that’s needed for the Dante Sonata. One musical mood after another is caught to near-perfection (the roguishness of Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa is a delight); and the middle section of Les cloches de Genève beautifully brings out Liszt’s improvisatory streak. Sometimes, as in Angelus!, there’s a reluctance to play softly enough – but that may be to do with the instrument? For some annoying reason the recording’s left-hand channel disappears during the first half of Sposalizio. Elsewhere the sound is glitch-free, excellent, and does justice to Grimwood’s remarkable achievement.
Performance: 5 stars
Recording: 4 stars
Listening to Liszt's musical descrption of his travels through Switzerland and Italy affords the same kind of pleasure as reading a prose journal. It's been many years since I "read it" all at a single sitting, and the first time in an edition with vivid hand-coloured mezzotints. Daniel Grimwood, fast making a name for himself as an original and discriminating musician, has chosen to play the cycle on an Érard piano of 1851, an instrument by Liszt's favourite maker built at around the same time as he was radically revising the 16 earlier works that woudl make up the first two volumes of Anées de Pélerinage (the third was written between 1867 and 1877).
Tuned to the (unequal) Bach-Lehman temperament (a'=440), the Érard produces the sound Liszt would have heard when composeing the playing these works. "Straight stringing," explains Grimwood, "causes a separation of register which the modern piano lacks...the lighter action means that playing at speed is far easier. The wealth of overtones make for a more vibrantand sweeter tone." But this would be just another interesting period-instrument recording if it were not for the performances.
These are out of the top drawer, for Grimwood is not merely a keyboard colourist (Au bord d'une source, for instance, and the two Thrénodies from Book 3 emerge as early examples of Impressionism, enhanced by the Érard's harp-like treble register in quieter passages); he throws himself with abandon into the bravura writing of Vallée d'Obermann and the Dante Sonata, and turns in a delightfully perky Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa. It's an enthralling journey that throws new light on these poetic ideals of the Romantic era and, with hardly a pause between each item, leaves the listener, as it would any traveller on the Grand Tour, awed by the wonders of nature, the spectacular scenery and the glories of Italian culture.
Shortly before Christmas, Daniel Grimwood gave a Wigmore Hall recital of the first two books of Liszt's Années de Pelerinage, fascinating from the point of view that he played on an 1851 Erard piano. As I said in the review, this was no mere blinkered striving for authenticity, but actually revealed Liszt's music in a quite different light. This two-disc set covers all three books of the Années de Pelerinage and produces much the same impact. The Erard instrument, which in terms of date slots neatly into the period when Liszt conceived these musical travelogues, is tuned to a form of unequal temperament as opposed to the equal temperament of today, so it sounds slightly - but not disagreeably - unfamiliar to our ears. The piano's mellow timbre is also a plus, since it has a cosseting effect on the music while at the same time yielding up a spectrum of colours that does not hinder the bravura but places it in a warmer context than can sometimes be the case on the modern grand.
It's range can be experienced in a single piece, 'Vallée d'Obermann', from the first, Swiss book, where Grimwood draws on the Erard's qualities to explore the passages of dark rumination while showing that it is no less capable of the vigorous passion that also manifests itself in 'Après une lecure de Dante' from the second, Italian book. Grimwood find limpid, glistening delicacy for such pieces as 'Au Lac de Wallenstadt' from the first book and 'Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este' from the third. Much thought has gone into this project, backed by Grimwood's command of the demands of Liszt's music and the sensitive expression he brings to it.
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph CD of the week. January 2009
Daniel Grimwood plays the three books of pieces that make up the Années de Pèlerinage on a piano of the composer's era, an 1851 Erard. I have not come across period-instrument performances of Liszt's piano music before: it makes a fascinating comparison with the recently reviewed Andreas Staier's Schumann disc, also played on an Erard. The tonal differences are significant; there's more power and definition on the instrument that Grimwoood uses, especially in the bass, and he puts that to good use in these performances, which conjure a dramatic power when it is required, while the lightness of the 19th-century action, when compared with a modern concert grand, gives sparkle and buoyancy to faster passages.
Grimwood colours all these pieces marvellously, even the predominantly contemplative numbers that make up the third book, composed in the late 1870s, and he is equally assured in the larger-scale structures of the two pieces that dominate those earlier collections, Vallée d'Obermann in the first, and Après une Lecture du Dante that ends the second. The result is a set that both throws new light and colours on one of the peaks of the romantic piano repertory, offers significant musical insights in its own right, and stands up well against many of the very best modern-instrument recordings.
Andrew Clement, The Guardian, January 2009