The Australia-born pianist Leslie Howard, nowadays resident in London, has not only completed his project of recording all of Liszt’s solo piano music, but has in addition added some extra CDs as previously forgotten works came to light. This extraordinary effort amounts to 99 CDs in all, and is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest recording project ever completed by any artist. Hyperion issued all 99 in a boxed set last year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.
It’s impossible to do more here than simply hail the achievement, and one CD must stand as representative of the whole. Howard’s Liszt: Ballades, Legends and Polonaises was the second to be issued and contains much to savor.
And it’s arguable that a limited selection such as this CD is of more value to the ordinary listener than the pathless prairies represented by 99 disks. It certainly has some fireworks of the kind Liszt specialized in. Most memorable for me were the Second Ballade (in B Minor), a truly tumultuous foray that makes you think Liszt was trying to make the piano do things it had never done before, as indeed he was, and the Legend of St Francois de Paule Walking on the Waves, a showpiece of literalism where the sea rolls and breaks in the left hand while the saint strides, confident and unconcerned, in the right.
Howard is equal to the best when it comes to Liszt, and more or less any CD in this huge sequence is probably as good as any other. All 99, however, are surely only going to be of interest to music libraries and professional pianists.
Violin Concerto/Symphony No. 2
Violin Concerto/Symphony No. 9
Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado
Complete Solo Piano Works
Leslie Howard, piano