Dimitris Sgouros Liszt LP/cassette reviewed by Ovation magazine

LISZT: Seven Transcendental Etudes: No. 1 ("Preludio"); No. 2 (A minor); No. 3 ("Paysage"); No. 5 ("Feux-follets"); No. 8 ("Wilde Jagd"); No. 10 (F Minor); No. 11 ("Harmonies du soir"). Mephisto Waltz No. 1.

Dimitris Sgouros, piano. ANGEL LP DS-38192, digital, $11.98. Tape 4DS-38192 $11.98 (cassette).

"... extraordinary technical prowess and musicality ..."


Make no mistake. Dimitris Sgouros is a pianistic phenomenon. And more. His speed, affinity for phrasing and pacing, and the naturalness of his style seem God-given, untaught. In these performances, at age sixteen, there is the excitement but not the over-tempestuousness nature that has marred some of his public performances. When I heard him do the Mephisto Waltz at the University of Maryland Festival in 1982, Dimitris tossed off its technical terrors with ease - albeit at too breakneck a speed!

On this disc the tempos are still breakneck, but the lyricism and the filmy lightness, the emotional outpouring and super-fluid fingers combine to make more than just a virtuoso performance. Only the last page is less than perfect, and this may be the composer's fault. Liszt has written too few notes - a one-voiced arpeggio in the right hand and an ending scale in alternating octaves, quite unlike, for example, Rachmaninoff's mammoth fortissimo chord endings - for the climax: The performer, after all that has gone before, needs luck and inhuman stamina to sustain the piece's power to the end without hitting a note or two between the cracks.

The seven of the twelve Transcendental Etudes which Sgouros plays also display extraordinary technical prowess and musicality. "Feux-follets" may not be the most gossamer possible, but "Wilde Jagd" is wild and soaring, the etude in F Minor spectacular in every way. The review LP crackles here and there, and the two sides contain a scarce, forty-four minutes of music.

Dean E.

This recording was subsequently issued on CD by EMI, with the catalogue numbers: CDC 7 49004 2 (English edition) and CC33-3448 (Japanese edition).  Two of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes also appeared on a double LP compilation on the GRT/EMI label (#62044).

 

CD liner notes

Liszt: Études d'exécution transcendante & Mephisto Waltz No. l

In the early 1820s Liszt wrote an opera called Don Sanche. It is a delightful piece lasting some ninety minutes in performance, full of dramatic interest and brimming over with harmonic subtlety and adroit changes of key. Don Sanche holds its own with other operas being given at the time, and, as Liszt's only stage work, makes one regret that in future he was to confine his theatrical gift to the recital platform. The most unusual thing about it, however, is that he cannot have been much more than twelve years old when he completed the score. Further proof that he was a child prodigy both as composer and performer is furnished by his Opus 1, the Études en douze exercices pour le piano, which he composed only a few years later at the age of fifteen. These twelve studies followed the period of rigorous training he underwent at the hands of Carl Czerny, a teacher who disciplined Liszt's wild genius and laid the foundation of a technique which made Liszt the greatest pianist of the day.

In 1838 Liszt returned to the Studies he had written as a fifteen-year-old and produced a more elaborate version of them which he dedicated to his old master Czerny. Finally, in 1851 at the age of thirty-nine, he published them in definitive form as the twelve Études d'exécution transcendante. Again he dedicated them to Czerny, perhaps with a certain ironical enjoyment since they were by now so incredibly difficult that for a time Liszt himself was the only pianist in the world able to play them successfully. Yet we should not dismiss the original Opus 1 on which they are based: while the various items show the obvious pedagogical influence of Czerny, they also display a brilliant ability to exploit the keyboard from end to end, as well as a natural gift for the sparkling treatment of melodic form.

'Studies in storm and dread' is how Schumann described the Twelve Transcendental Studies. They open with a Prelude which enables the pianist to warm up and to create expectancy of great things to come. We are not disappointed, for the second Study is a molto vivace that translates into pianistic language the breathtaking virtuoso display of a Paganini. A contrast is provided by the third, one of the Studies to which Liszt gave a specific title. It is called Paysage and suggests a peaceful country scene, calm and sunlit, with syncopated passages that in a curious way look forward to Brahms. (Again and again in his music Liszt gives an eerie foretaste of the future, notably in the works of his last period which anticipate Bartók). The fifth Transcendental Study is entitled Feux follets and gives an impressionistic picture of the elusive 'Will o' the Wisp', built up on rippling sheen of subtle and intricate fingerwork. Number Eight issues another daunting challenge to the pianist: it is a presto furioso that veers madly between extremes of refinement and brutality. The title Liszt eventually conferred on it, Wilde Jagd, evokes a forest hunt of the sort often described in German Romantic poetry and painting. The Allegro agitato which comprises the tenth Study is among the most famous of the set and is often played on its own for the sake of the feverish tension which it so unforgettably creates. After such excitement it is pleasant to turn to the quieter atmosphere of Number Eleven, Harmonies du soir, a title probably borrowed from the Lamartine poem. Here, as in Paysage, a tranquil landscape is depicted. Twilight has descended, a vague mist envelops trees and farms, and a meditative cadenza gently resolves into a crystalline chord of D flat major.

As one who all his life struggled desperately to reconcile the opposing attractions of God and the Devil, Liszt was always interested in the legend of Faust, especially as it was treated in the poetry of his fellow Hungarian expatriate Nikolaus Lenau. The orchestral work Two Episodes from Lenau's Faust is an example of the fascination it held for him. The second, of these episodes is the basis of the first Mephisto Waltz, or The Dance in the Village Inn'. Faust and Mephistopheles are caught up in a wedding celebration at a rustic inn. Mephisto grabs a violin and, with his fiery playing, whips up the dancers to a frenzy while Faust and a beautiful country girl dance out of the inn and vanish into a 'roaring sea of lust'. Silence falls and the chant of a nightingale echoes through the wood. This miniature symphonic poem includes Bartókian effects as Mephisto tunes his violin, a waltz that is transformed with a chain of magnificent variations and audacious leaps, and a final nightingale's song of heart-aching nostalgia.

© James Harding, 1985

Clavier Magazine - "Sgouros, on the basis of this performance, seems to have the makings of one of the century's great pianists"

 

Vladimir Horowitz featured on the cover of Ovation Magazine (March 1983 edition)

 

 

 Ovation Magazine Special Tribute Edition -  Dimitris Sgouros awarded First Prize for his recordings, "strikingly outdistancing the competition..." 

 

 July 1984   From left to right:
John Pattrick, Vice President of Angel Records L.A.; Erick Friedman ; Jean-Philippe Collard ; Dimitris Sgouros ;
Dr. Mark P. Malkovich, III, Director Newport Festival, Rhode Island ; Anthony Caronia, Angel Records New York
[special thanks to Mark Malkovich IV for this photograph, drawn from the personal collection of Dr Mark P. Malkovich III]

 

"Dimitris Sgouros is surely on his way to recording all the standard repertoire.  But for once I don't mind the duplications.  What a piano player he is!  I can't wait to hear his next recording."

- Roger Milton, Beverly Hills, CA   [High Performance Review]

 

The Music of Franz Liszt with Georges Cziffra, Louis Kentner, John Ogdon, Dimitris Sgouros, et al.

(2 LP set)

 


Piano Prodigy Shows Technical Majesty in Debut (Ravinia Festival)

John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune  July 18, 1984; Page D_A4

"... he maintained his pianistic composure with an astonishing degree of control throughout a program that would have tested the mettle of a Horowitz or Serkin....  it is difficult to imagine anyone, Liszt included, capturing the wild diablerie - also the vulgarity - of the Mephisto Waltz with greater panache..."

 

DOWNLOAD MP3 - LISZT MEPHISTO WALTZ No 1 - Dimitris Sgouros (Live 1987 Melbourne)

 

Dimitris Sgouros with Claudio Abbado

Marc-André Hamelin 12 Etudes in all the Minor Keys - Etude No 3 after Paganini-Liszt [2010 Edition Peters]

"In his Lisztian encore Sgouros was able to shine in a rhapsodic composition of enormous technical challenge. The work was designed to astonish and Sgouros did just that, easily transforming difficult finger work into aural opulence." - Keith Moore (Columbia University)

 


 

 In homage of the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt in 2011, EMI/Warner Classics proudly announces a new double-CD set entitled "Essential Liszt" with landmark recordings by Dimitris Sgouros and other featured Liszt exponents of the modern era

 

 "Essential Liszt" - the highly-anticipated new Warner/EMI Classics album (worldwide release July 2011) 

       


 


 

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