Franz Liszt is The Flavor of the Month around here, it seems. And a good thing it is, too, including the Kossuth Club's 200th Anniversary Concert and this week-long festival produced by the estimable and delightfully unpredictable Artist Series.
Liszt's piano music has gained a reputation for flash and swagger, labels it merits only if matched by appreciation of its enormous influence on the music that followed, music of variable tonal centers, music of almost superhuman difficulty, music that influenced everyone from Wagner to Bartok in its enormous inventiveness and readiness to provoke.
Liszt was a man of charismatic power, cultivating his matinee-idol good looks and devastating charm to promote his career, stepping over swooning ladies to meet the princes of power of his time. Somehow, however, his music – no matter how accessible – was never cheap. His piano works, many of which were heard in this concert, are of concentrated power and focus, evocative and challenging.
Although works for piano, such as the familiar "Forest Murmurs" and "Liebestod," were warmly received by the audience Sunday evening, less familiar items, such as "Three Consolations" also had great impact, as did the seldom performed (too difficult?) "Rigoletto" fantasy in a fearless performance by Xiao-Feng Wu.
The superb acoustics of the Historic Asolo Theater were brought beautifully alive by the rich voice of mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin in a group of Liszt songs sadly neglected by today's recital artists. Martin's voice was large and rich, filling the theater with ease as she told stories of love, requited and not.
The program concluded, appropriately, with a blockbuster: The "Mephisto Waltz" as performed by the fearless Dmitri Vorobiev. The house was torn down, as the composer undoubtedly intended.