Getting 'Wild and Crazy' With Liszt

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Franz Liszt, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year, was a musician whose gifts as pianist and composer were rivaled by his status as a pop-culture phenomenon in the capitals of Europe. Liszt's life of excesses and contradictions, as revealed in a tell-all book by a former mistress, even inspired Ken Russell's 1975 film “Lisztomania,” starring a mostly bare-chested Roger Daltrey of The Who. Swooning women fans reportedly fought over Liszt's cigar stubs and wore bracelets made out of the broken piano strings from his piano.

It’s these biographical credentials that serve as the basis for “Liszt: Wild and Crazy,” a new two-CD collection containing some of Liszt’s most familiar and flamboyant piano music served up by the likes of Martha Argerich, Vladimir Horowitz, Lang Lang, Alice Sara Ott, Sviatolav Richter and others. Deutsche Grammophon raids its deep catalog to give us classic performances like the opening Mephisto Waltz No. 2 recorded by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1971 and the incredible set of variations on “Dies Irae” called Totentanz, recorded by Jorge Bolet in 1985.

There aren't any real duds in the set. At the most outrageously exhibitionistic end of the spectrum are two of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies: No. 2 played by Lang Lang (who else) and No. 6 in a barnstorming rendition by Martha Argerich. Liszt’s dreamily poetic side is here too. There’s Daniel Barenboim playing the Liebestraum No. 3, Yundi Li giving a roiling account of the Liebeslied S. 566 and Wilhelm Kempff playing Il Penseroso from Annees de pelerinage.

If this collection whets your appetite for yet more Liszt, DG has also released a 34-CD box set of Liszt while Brilliant Classics has a 30-CD set.

Liszt: Wild and Crazy
Various Pianists
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at Arkivmusic.com