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Illuminating Liszt

February 19, 1999

By Deno Gianopoulos

It's always a pleasure when a program shows that serious, considered thought has gone into the building of it. Such was William Wellborn's program Friday at the Old First Church, illuminating the diversity of Franz Liszt's piano music: part one, "Liszt, the Transcriber," part two--"Liszt the Innovator." Wellborn acquitted himself well in this awesome task.

The program's most eclectic music was the "Six Polish Songs by Chopin," in the Liszt arrangement. Wellborn understood the use of rubato, sentiment, and pianistic elegance required to catch the charm of this music.

The program began with two transcriptions of Schubert's songs, "Wohin?" and "Staendchen." While I favor the miracles of Liszt's transcriptions, I draw the line before Schubert's songs. They are so perfect as they are, I always feel there is a tinge of desecration in Liszt's treatment. Nevertheless, Wellborn played them lovingly, as one must.

After an excellent account of the "Rigoletto" paraphrase ending the program's first half, came the monolithic B minor Sonata. This colossus with its shattering chords and octaves was the most difficult to appreciate because of the muddy acoustics of the Old First Church. The challenge for the pianist to hear himself is nearly impossible to meet. One needs to use the pedal a great deal for the sheer sonority required by this music, as Wellborn did, but the acoustics did not allow the sonorities to clear with a quick lift of the pedal. This problem is a rough one for pianist and audience.

Nevertheless, we could still leave the concert reminded once again of how great a work the B Minor Sonata is, thanks to Wellborn's performance.

(Deno Gianopoulos is a concert pianist and teaches piano at the Department of Music at the University of California, Berkeley.)

©1999 Deno Gianopoulos, all rights reserved