After reading through the exhaustive notes provided by pianist Boris Giltburg to accompany his Naxos recording of Franz Liszt’s Twelve Studies (1852) coupled to the Rigoletto paraphrase (1859) and La Leggierezza, the second of the Concert Studies (1848), this listener is left with little to add to Giltburg’s encyclopedic liner notes even by way of an introductory paragraph.

All of these compositions are mature works written by the composer in his late thirties and forties. They are technically daunting, mostly large pieces, written by Liszt for himself, capitalizing on the Hungarian piano virtuoso’s legendary ability at the keyboard.

They were also conceived at the time as pièces d’occasion – the “occasions” often being any that called for an appearance by the keyboard superstar featuring highly descriptive music frequently meant to evoke a certain story or a natural phenomenon, and simultaneously wow the composer’s aristocratic audiences with his super-human technique.

These were short musical evocations that, excepting three – Mazeppa, Ricordanza and Harmonies du Soir, ran under five minutes and even as briefly as fifty-nine seconds. Replete with Lisztian gestures, glissandi, multi-octave arpeggios, and big climaxes back-to-back with delicate passages they are evocative of a perfumed, long lost, privileged era of music-making meant for the  enjoyment of the very few.

Boris Giltburg is the kind of pianist capable of taking on these challenging compositions and making them sound like Important Music, which they are and are not, depending on one’s mood and mindset. For me they belong to a world of salon music by the likes of Thalberg, Gottschalk, Sarasate, Carreño, and others who wrote perfectly beautiful compositions deserving of being preserved and played today by technical wizards like Giltburg, a musician who infuses his playing with deep sensitivity, reminding us that he is a superb artist, in addition to being a virtuoso of his instrument.

This recent Naxos release was perfectly engineered by Simon Eadon and elegantly produced by Andrew Keener.

Rafael de Acha