cd review: andré watts plays liszt

André Watts: Liszt

Paganini Etudes

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13

En Rêve

Transcendental Etude N0. 10

Sonata in B minor

Watts is a formidable pianist by all accounts, but this recording seems to be a bit bottom-heavy and somewhat under-impressive. The bass is always the most prominent sound, and seems to be overly thick. This could be the recording engineer’s fault, it could be the piano. It doesn’t sound like it’s Watts.

The first Paganini etude is a good performance, but not incredible. The line is well-sculpted and shaped, but the tremolos are somewhat lackluster and the few changes of character in the piece don’t stand out from the rest of the texture. Even the runs at the end seem note-y and clunky. However, the second etude makes up for it with its beautiful sparkle. Watts’ runs are impeccable. However, because of the bottom-heaviness of the entire thing, the effect can be overshadowed. La Campanella really shines – Watts gives it an elegance that truly makes it an excellent piece of music rather than just a show-piece. It sounds like Liszt. I find No. 4 to be rather monochromatic. It’s missing quite a bit of that original violin quality, the rhapsodic micro-rubato found so often in string writing. Though Watts plays it quite well (his repeated notes are incredible), it’s not particularly interesting either as a piano piece or a violin piece. La Chasse, like the previous, was a little too polite. Liszt’s music typical grabs you by the shoulders and commands your attention – this performance let you sit back, relax, and enjoy the story. The final Paganini etude was great per individual variation, but the arch of the whole piece seems disjointed.

In the Hungarian Rhapsody, Watts just passes by so many moments for really expressive opportunities. The whole first section, full of augmented intervals, he very nearly glosses them over (great for runs, not so much for melodies.) The nocturne was lovely. The Transcendental Etude suffered the same problems as the rest of the disc: it was a good, logical performance, but nothing really special, and a lot of really good opportunities were passed by. In addition, the overbearing bass really got in the way here – the rips to the top of the keyboard petered out in comparison to the melody of the bass line.

After the rest of this CD, the Sonata was just what I expected. Solid, and good, but nothing earth-shattering. The overbearing bass didn’t seem as noticeable in this piece. However, the flow of the piece didn’t quite work – certain moments were really beautiful, but the buildup, the tension and release, the overall arch, were lacking.

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