<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Liszt: St. Stanislaus

LISZT: St. Stanislaus
Kristine Jepson, mezzo-soprano; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone; Michael Chertock, organ; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orch/James Conlon, cond.
TELARC CD 80607 (F) (DDD) TT: 60:05

Like certain other works of its period, Liszt began this oratorio in 1874 to celebrate the 1079 martyrdom of Poland’s patron saint. But after setting Part I of four that were planned, Liszt put it aside until 1882, by which time “several poets helped him improve the libretto.” Just weeks before his death in 1886, he sent Part IV to his publisher without composing Parts II or III. This first recording, a bold one in greater part, is as Liszt left it with the exception of the mother’s aria that concludes Part I, which survives as a vocal-piano score. Paul Munson, a Liszt scholar who scoured Europe for 35 extent manuscripts, most of which had been scattered without being performed or published after the aged Abbe’s death, scored the accompaniment in the style Liszt employed elsewhere in Part I, a seamless contribution published along with the rest of the score in 1998.

James Conlon, conductor-elect of Chicago’s Ravinia Festival (who succeeded James Levine in 1979 as music director of Cincinnati’s formerly biennial, now-annual May Music Festival), was intrigued by the score and scheduled its premiere last year. An hour’s music was recorded in a single day, May 26, presumably as a session rather than a performance-recording, using Direct Stream Digital with a sampling rate of 2.8224 mHz producing a dynamic range of more than 120 dB. Any who doubt that claim are warned that a sudden organ blast from Michael Chertock might fry cheap speakers, as certainly a second one could if the first failed. While the work indubitably misses Parts II and III, textually as well as dramatically, what survives is a protean mixture of late Liszt, looking forward to pantonality, and three rousing settings of the Polish national hymn, “Salve Polonia” – one of the best such in all of Europe.

Principal singers are the able Kristine Jepson as Stanislaus’ mother, and Donnie Ray Albert in the dual roles of Stanislaus and King Bolesaw II. Just past the peak of his prime, Albert is really a bass-baritone with a ringing top but a low register that lacks sufficient fullness and variety of tone for all of the music here. The Festival Chorus, however, some 150 voices strong recruited from a tri-state reservoir, sings resoundingly in German, and the Cincinnati orchestra has beneftted not only from Conlon’s 25-year tenure and expertise but from the infusion of Paavo Järvi as music director since 2001. Because Music Hall in Cincinnati is far more capacious than Atlanta’s, this recording has ample spaciousness without the in-your-face impact of recent recordings from Georgia, plus the advantages of authentic depth and balance. Technical credits are up to Telarc’s major-league standards, and the music is fascinating, even sequential patterns in Part I that may remind you of Bruckner.

Recommended to anyone bored by ruts in the Beaten Path.

R.D. (January 2004)