LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat. Piano Concerto No. 2 in A. GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16.
Stephen Hough, piano; Bergen Philharmonic Orch/An drew Litton, cond.
HYPERION CDA67824 TT: 69:02

LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat. Romance "O pourquoi donc." La Campanella. Consolation No. 3. Liebestrauym No. 3. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. Un Sospiro. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15. Ave Maria (Schubert)
:Lang Lang, piano; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

WIDOR: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 39. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C mionor, Op. 77. Fantaisie in A flat, Op. 62.
Markus Becker, piano; BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thierry Fischer, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67817 TT: 71:38

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 6 in b minor, Op. 54. Symphony No. 12 in D minor "The Year 1971" Op. 112
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch/Vasily Petrenko, cond.
NAXOS 8.l572658 TT: 69:38

WALTON: Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor. Symphony No. 2. Siesta.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orch/Martyn Brabbins, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67794 TT: 78:05

Stephen Hough continues to amaze with his stunning technique and musicality. He first attracted major attention two decades ago with his Chandos recording of two piano concertos of Hummel (which to this date apparently is the label's best-selling disk), and since that time has recorded all piano/orchestra works of Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Saint-Saëns (the latter selected by Gramophon Magazine as "the best recording of the past 30 years."). Hough also has championed music of modern composers including George Tsontakis and Lowell Liebermann. Now he turns to three familiar concertos and offers bravura readings. The Grieg emerges in a fresh new light with a truly exciting cadenza. And it is a pleasure to hear this stunning reading of Liszt's Concerto No. 2, in the final section we hear four truly thrilling glissandi. How did he achieve that? Perhaps with a little help from the engineers? Anyway, it is exciting to hear. Excellent sonics, and even if you have other recordings of these works, you should investigate this one.

Lang Lang's latest CD is devoted to music of Franz Liszt, whom he calls "My Piano Hero."It features the Piano Concerto No. 1 with Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic as well as a group of solos on this well-filled disk; all receive expectedly brilliant performances. Sony also has issued this in a Limited Deluxe Edition at a higher price that includes Wagner's Liebestod arranged by Liszt along with a brief DVD of "behind the scenes" episodes in the pianist's life. And, staying on the Lang Lang bandwagon, Sony also issued a video, both regular and Blu Ray, of his 2011 concert at the !Tunes Festival that contains many of the same works as "My Piano Hero" in a rock-concert presentation with flashing lights and visual effects. No question whatever that Lang Lang has a phenomenal technique, but his mannerisms both physical and musical are not to my taste. If you admire him, this is for you.

Charles-Marie Widow (1844-1937), best known for the Toccata from the fifth of his ten massive organ symphonies, also wrote three symphonies ,four operas, a ballet, songs and choral music, solo piano and chamber works, and two piano concertos as well as a Fantaisie for piano and orchestra. The latter three works are found on Hyperion's splendid new disk, Volume 55 in their Romantic Piano Concerto series. This series has consistently had a high level of interest in resurrecting neglected repertory, and this is one of the most intriguing. The first conceerto dates from 1876, the second from 1906; both have three sections with robust outer movements and a center Andante. Of particular interest is the 22-minute Fantaisie composed in 1889, a richly-scored episodic romantic rhapsody. All of this music is memorable, and the sensitive performances by pianist Markus Becker show he obviously is as at home in romantic repertory as he is in Reger, Rihm and contemporary composers. The orchestra is first-rate, superb sonics are another plus.

Vasily Petrenko continues his memorable Shostakovich series on Naxos with a coupling of symphonies 6 and 12. No. 6 is well-known in the concert hall and on recordings. In three movements, it begins with an extensive (19:45) meandering Largo which is despair personified, often of intensity equal to Barber's Adagio for Strings. Then the somber mood is shattered by an audacious Allegro followed by a dazzling Presto, perhaps suggesting that it all was a macabre jest. Symphony 12 is called Shostakovich's "Lenin Symphony," with four connecting movements titled Revolutionary Petrograd, Razliv, Aurora, and The Dawn of Humanity. It is a powerful work that often borrows from previous Shostakovich symphonies. Scored for large orchestra, there is much bombast and crashing percussion, but the composer himself felt it was not one of his better works. Both performances are outstanding with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in top form—string articulation is quite remarkable. Add to this the usual Naxos state-of-the-art engineering, and you have a prize recording.

Hyperion has another winner with this splendid disk of both of Sir William Walton's symphonies played by the BBC Scottish Symphony directed by Martyn Brabbins, a conductor who continues to impress with his expertise in a wide range of repertory. I treasure a BBC live performance he conducted of Gliere's Ilya Muromets, and no one will forget his recent triumph at the BBC Proms with Brian's Gothic Symphony. He gives both of Walton's symphonies propulsive readings that are spectacularly played by the fine orchestra; they stand up well to George Szell's 1961 Cleveland recording of Symphony No. 2, and André Previn's 1966 LSO version of Symphony No. 1. Add some of the label's clearest, richest sound, and you have a combination that is hard to beat. The gentle Siesta makes a quiet stopgap between the two major works.

R.E.B. (January 2012)