Franz Liszt - Santa Barbara Liszt Album (Zeynep Ucbasaran). Les cloches de Genève; Funérailles; Eroica; Trübe Wolken / Nuages gris; Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H; Schubert Lied Transcriptions: Erstarrung, Aufenthalt, Ave Maria; Rhapsodie espagnole. Zeynep Ucbasaran, piano. Eroica JDT 3092 (72'39). For purchase information see: www.zupiano.com
Too often Franz Liszt's deepest insights are trammeled by the exhibitionism of the virtuoso. Liszt did write some facile, showy pieces -- a few of the Hungarian Rhapsodies come to mind -- but in his greatest works there is a transcendental spirituality that can touch the soul of even as jaded a cynic as myself. It is this vein in Liszt's music that Zeynep Ucbasaran explores in her "Santa Barbara Liszt Album."
If indeed this is the side of Liszt that Ucbasaran is exploring, she couldn't have chosen a better program. The disk opens with the gentle arpeggios of Les cloches of Genève, an impression of the distant bells of the Swiss city. She follows this with Funérailles. An elegy for Hungarian patriots executed in the wake of the revolution of 1848, this brooding piece is anchored by a relentless death march punctuated by powerful passages of grief and anger. The program continues with "Eroica", from the Transcendental études, a notoriously difficult set of pieces, and that foreshadowing of Impressionism from late in Liszt's life, Nuages gris. These two comparatively shorter pieces are followed by a piano version of Liszt's massive work for organ, the Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H. Ucbasaran navigates the demanding passages of this dense work with elegance. Three varied Schubert lied transcriptions reaffirm Liszt's debt to that composer and the program concludes with a rousing version of the Rhapsodie espagnole.
There is no question that Zeynep Ucbasaran has the technical equipment to handle Liszt's challenges, but what is most impressive is the intelligence and sensitivity she brings to her playing. It is, for the most part, an introverted interpretation. Each piece sounds more desolate and brooding than in other performances I've heard. Yet, far from being oppressive, this approach allows the rays of light that sporadically punctuate Liszt's pieces to shine more brightly, freed as they are from the egotism that often spoils performances of this composer's work.