Liszt's 'Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude' carries my Thanksgiving wishes this year
I've been hugely enjoying Janina Fialkowska's new Liszt Recital album from ATMA Classique, which is a treat from beginning to end. This is one of the year's definitive tributes to Franz Liszt, whose 200th birth anniversary falls on Oct. 22.
The disc's programme is a mix of fireworks and fireside, with the extravagant Valse-caprice No. 6 and Valse de Faust (a memory of Gounod's opera) bookending Liszt's respectful transcriptions of six Chopin songs, Gretchen (a transcription of the middle movement of his Faust-Symphonie) and Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude.'
Failkowska achieves something extraordinary in her blend of flawless technique, complete control and a feeling of genuine spontaneiety. Her playing is never strident or showy or, in moments of total reflection, slack. This is much, much more difficult to achieve than it sounds.
Rather than being in the presence of an ego, the album left me with the impression of being in the presence of a (very) good and faithful servant of the composer.
The piece that has affected me the most is Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, which I listened to a lot as a tween (it was an Angel LP by Georges Cziffra, if I remember properly). Fialkowska's interpretation is positively ethereal.
The piece is one of a set inspired by the 1830 collection, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, by French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, which, a couple of years later, deeply affected a 22-year-old composer madly in love with the Comtesse d'Agoult. (Liszt wrote the 10 pieces in this set piecemeal, and didn't get them published until 1853.)
The poem goes on (at length) in signature Romantic style how, after great inner turmoil and unhappiness and some time spent savouring the manifold pastoral charms of the countryside, the Grace of God has calmed and comforted the soul. "Un nouvel homme en moi renaît et recommence," writes Lamartine (A new man is reborn in me).
For those of you who can read French, here is the final, breathless, stanza:
Conserve-nous, mon Dieu, ces jours de ta promesse, Ces labeurs, ces doux soins, cette innocente ivresse D'un cœur qui flotte en paix sur les vagues du temps, Comme l'aigle endormi sur l'aile des autans, Comme un navire en mer qui ne voit qu'une étoile, Mais où le nautonier chante en paix sous sa voile ! Conserve-nous ces cœurs et ces heures de miel, Et nous croirons en toi, comme l'oiseau du ciel, Sans emprunter aux mots leur stérile évidence, En sentant le printemps croit à ta providence; Comme le soir doré d'un jour pur et serein S'endort dans l'espérance et croit au lendemain; Comme un juste mourant et fier de son supplice Espère dans la mort et croit à ta justice; Comme la vertu croit à l'immortalité, Comme l'œil croit au jour, l'âme à la vérité.
The full magic of Fialkowska's performance comes from being able to earnestly render Liszt's caresses and sighs with a determined energy, and to carefuly dissimulate the technical hurdles (and there are many) with a gauzy, ethereal peace.
(It helps that Fialkowska recorded on one of Canada's finest concert instruments, a Hamburg-built Steinway at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City.)
Because Fialkowska's performance is not available on YouTube, I listened to many well-known names looking for something that could rival her interpretation, to share here.
The best I could come up with is a 1948 recording by the late, great French pianist Raymond Trouard (1916-2008), on a funky sounding Pleyel grand. Trouard had as one of his teachers Emil von Sauer, a student of Liszt's.