Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

Classical Music: Liszt


Emmanuel Despax - Piano

CD1: Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata (Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161: No. 7); Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude (Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S. 173: No. 3); Funérailles (Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S. 173: No. 7)

CD2: Nuages gris, S. 199; Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178;

Signum Classics SIGCD 798

People sometimes describe Liszt as an acquired taste. As this disc demonstrates, that is not the case and is sure to dispel any misconceptions. Yes, Liszt is technically and virtuosically challenging; however, Emmanuel Despax makes his music seem simple to play when, as we know, it is not.

There is passion in his expressive playing, as he superbly captures the spirit of Liszt by observing the minutiae and bringing out the character of each piece, stimulating the senses.

His intelligent interpretations show he understands Liszt’s personality, as he plays with a charm that makes the tone of his Steinway D sing. A lineage of mentors tracing back to Liszt deeply connects Despax's musical upbringing to the composer's legacy. “My mentor, Ruth Nye, was one of Claudio Arrau’s finest pupils,” Despax comments. “Arrau, in turn, studied under Martin Krause, one of Liszt’s foremost disciples. This lineage has deeply influenced my musical upbringing. Her teachings instilled a unique perspective on interpretation, fostering an insatiable curiosity. This approach emphasised engaging with the score with the utmost integrity, without shortcuts or compromise. Above all, to me, this tradition signifies a performance ethos: to walk on stage not to impress or merely please, but to serve as a conduit between the music and the audience.”

The august lucidity and the sounds he creates in all the registers are magnificent and sonorous, all enhanced by Signum’s excellent recording in Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. Despax’s skill in communicating Liszt’s intention through exceptionally well-controlled playing, exquisite dynamics, and lyrical phrasing is highly impressive.

Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude is scrumptious, the Nuages gris delightful, and the mighty B-Minor sonata is full of virtuosic electricity, with Despax shrugging off the technical demands with ease and panache when dealing with the emotional intensity.

If you have shied away from Liszt in the past, then this CD will convince you otherwise. An utterly sumptuous recording.

Emmanuel Despax 
© Signum Records
Emmanuel Despax © Signum Records