Beethoven – Sonata No. 23 “Appassionata”
Schumann – Kinderszenen
Thalberg – Grande fantaisie sur des motifs de Il barbiere di Siviglia
Liszt – Totentanz
Valentina Lisitsa, piano
Pianist Valentina Lisitsa performs in this recording four virtuosic works beginning with Beethoven’s most famous Sonata, the so-called “Appassionata”, together with Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Thalberg’s Grande fantaisie sur des motifs de Il barbiere di Siviglia and Liszt’s Totentanz. This all-Romantic and highly demanding programme is perfect to show Lisitsa’s great skill and technique and her compelling performance of works that express tempestuous and strong feelings.
Lisitsa is used to say that she has a special affinity for the music of Beethoven and the Appassionata is perfect to prove this assertion. The work, divided in three movement, is played by Lisitsa with passion and fire and no hesitation at all. Lisitsa is concentrated on the main idea and on its fulfilment and gives the impression that she will not stop until she will reach the end and her goal. This steadiness is balanced and shaded by silvery colours and by softer touches to which Lisitsa resorts especially in the second, slow movement (Andante con moto), although the “dreamy” aspect is opposed by the usual determination, which is restrained but not appeased and has its climax in the last movement (Allegro ma non troppo, Presto), that becomes a whirl of emotions under Lisitsa’s fingers.
The Kinderszenen (or Scenes of Childhood) describe a completely different world after the Appassionata and their nuances are softer and – sometimes – witty, but Lisitsa does not play these pieces as a pause between two more challenging works and, although they offer little chance to show off her virtuosity, she enriches them with many delicate shades and plays them as lullabies (as Von fremden Ländern und Menschen) or with amusement (Kuriose Geschichte) or with melancholic poetry (Der Dichter spricht).
Thalberg’s Grande fantaisie stands out for its impertinent beginning and for its lively spirit, while Liszt’s Totentanz, although characterized by a heavy beginning, later dissolves into an animated and restless “dance” in which Lisitsa throws herself without hesitation. The crystalline and silvery sound of the piano is peculiar in Totentanz and is so flowing that it becomes similar to the sound of a harp, especially in the middle of the piece.
Lisitsa is hypnotic not only because she is able to convey many different and complex emotions, but because she knows also how to bend her instrument to make them unmistakable and clear. Her frankness and immediacy allow her to enter immediately into the spirit of the compositions and prevent weaknesses of every kind (technical or expressive). This is the secret of the perfection of this recording.