Louis Lortie, Liszt at the opera (Chandos)
LOVE 'em or hate 'em, there is no halfway house with Franz Liszt's transcriptions and paraphrases, which range from Schubert's songs to the complete symphonies of Beethoven. Bluntly, transcription in the 19th century was both an art in itself, and an industry. And none, in the field of operatic paraphrases, were more assiduous or productive than Franz Liszt, who numbered some 60 or so such arrangements in his 1400 compositions. They are dazzling, warhorse pieces for warhorse pianists and, in a way, it's surprising that Louis Lortie, the pristine, pure, French Canadian pianist should turn his attention to these flamboyant masterpieces. But he finds great depth and spaciousness in the extracts from Wagner's Tannhauser, supreme panache in the waltz from Gounod's Faust and in the most articulate version I have heard of the great quartet from Rigoletto (if lacking the dash of the young Thibaudet's early recording). Similarly, the Liebestod from Tristan is short on erotic charge but, overall, this is a good set.