To some ears Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions depend on transgressive ornamentation to achieve their sometimes-overwrought effects, but in his transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies, he chose a straighter path, ‘following the principle of adding nothing and removing as little as possible.’
Last Sunday afternoon Christopher Taylor, in a continuation of his plan to present all nine at the Gardner’s Calderwood Hall, essayed the Sixth, in A Major, “Pastoral,” op. 68, and the Seventh, in F Major, op. 92. The hall could hardly contain the fortissimos, yet Taylor’s beautiful lyric passages almost compensated. He deftly moved from whimsy and light-heartedness to that crashing “sempre ff,” as called for in the score. He characterized the delicate repartee and unexpected changes in tempo and volume with characterful elan, and he took pleasantly surprising lightning-short breaks. By downplaying the indicated staccato at the start of the Seventh’s Allegretto movement he achieved a striking menace in of the most effective passages of the afternoon. His passing back and forth between major and minor keys in the Andante movement of the Sixth also struck us as artistically rendered.
The Seventh opened with sustained, hesitant notes, then burst into more fortissimo. The second movement, Allegretto, also opened softly, but with more staccato than the legato I associate with that Beethoven symphony; of course, the piano is a percussion instrument. Before the days of copyright, Beethoven’s symphonies were fair game and at least two composers had tried to reduce them for piano solo. Liszt, however, proposed his versions to his publisher, Breitkopf und Härtel, according to the Gardner’s engaging program notes, as “something better.” He was right.
Taylor’s finishes his cycle of Liszt’s Beethoven transcriptions with Symphonies 8 and 9 (the latter with singers) on Sunday, November 13th; it should be in one’s calendar. The Museum’s Tapestry Hall, the previous setting for Gardner concerts, better suited Taylor’s big personality. I well remember his take ago on Messiaen’s mystical, mesmerizing Vingts Regards sur l’Enfant Jesu there 16 years ago.
Attendees can currently visit the superb, brilliantly conceived small exhibition on Simone Martini and three contemporary American artists, all working with gold leaf. Martini has always been my favorite artist of the early Renaissance, and this show surely shows why. And the well-written, sumptuous catalogue is a steal at $49.
Bettina A. Norton, emerita editor of the Intelligencer, is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle. She has been attending classical music concerts “since the waning years of World War II.”