Never underestimate the potency of cheap music

Noël Coward’s famous one-liner “Never underestimate the potency of cheap music” comes to mind when listening to Liszt’s unavoidably stirring 1847 Grand Paraphrase of a March of Donizetti composed by the Italian for His Majesty Sultan Abdul-Medjid Khan and refashioned by him into a more-is-more study in musical grandiosity bordering on the humorous. 

That, the Réminiscences de Lucia Di Lammermoor de Donizetti, which takes the Chi mi frena in tal momento sextet and turns it into a deranged study in musical grandstanding, and just about every other piece in the terrific CD 1847 Liszt in Istanbul helps to re-establish Liszt’s partial identity as a guiltless pilferer of other composer’s music and shameless showman of mid-19th century salon music.

Liszt takes Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance and re-labels it Rondo Briliant in Db major. He takes three Big Moments from Norma and a soprano aria from I Puritani (Son vergin vezzosa) and refashions them into vehicles for his larger than life pianistic skills, even if at the expense of sacrificing Bellini’s seamless Bel Canto melodies by over-embellishing them into musical mush.

Elsewhere the Hungarian Abbé-composer  delivers a pretty decent facsimile of a Chopin Mazurka and of Schubert’s Lied The Earl King, but neither begins to compare to the real thing.

None of this is to say that Liszt was only a shameless copier always out to foray into others’ music and take what he could. His three vibrant Magyar Dalok (Hungarian Melodies) bring out the best in him, successfully tapping into his Central European roots. And by way of redemption, overall, Liszt proves here to be an entertaining salon composer.

Turkish pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran is a formidable artist who elevates this music to lofty heights by virtue of her sensitive musicality and dazzling technique. Here’s hoping that divine art will bring her out again to delight us with music worthy of her technique and sensibilities.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS