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Cat. No. CHAN 6629 Price: £4.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 6629 - Liszt: Weihnachtsbaum · Ballades
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Available From: 19 October 2000
Liszt’s transition from showman to recluse, from a predominantly active to a contemplative man, was taken under his mistress the Princess Carolyne Sayn Wittgenstein’s guidance. It was his perceived debasement of his music and art that led him to this path, which also affected the nature of his ‘late’, freely experimental and dark-hued works. There was a darkening of the soul and a rejection of excess – where before there were cascades of notes there is now only the sparsest utterance.

Such a change is vital to an understanding of Liszt’s Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree), composed between 1874 and 1876 for his granddaughter Daniela von Bülow. But if the stage is set for a quiet celebration of family affection and Christian piety the result is altogether more subtle and ambiguous. The opening carols begin benignly enough, but the with the exuberant chimes of the ‘Carillon’ transforming into a nocturnal meditation, the suite takes another direction. There is nothing in music quite like Weihnachtsbaum. A distant relation of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Debussy’s Children’s Corner, those marvels of early childhood magic seen through adult eyes, it ends by ironically contradicting its sense of light, finally suggesting a thorny path to a state of grace and inner peace.

Liszt’s First Ballade, completed in 1848, is chivalric, scintillating and unduly neglected. Concluding in dazzling style, it is a product of Liszt’s earlier style and genius. The Second Ballade of 1853 could hardly be a more sombre contrast, not short of its dramatic and virtuosic moments; its serene close forms a subtle alternative to Liszt’s original and bombastic conclusion.

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