This year being Franz Liszt’s bicentenary, his music is resounding from many venues across the world. On Wednesday evening, the Library of Congress launched a 10-part minifestival with a sterling recital by Canadian virtuoso Louis Lortie.
The event was noteworthy for another reason as well: With it, the Library inaugurated a new Steinway. Never was such an acquisition so needed for so long. The venue had a virtual moratorium on solo piano recitals for years because of the condition of the previous instrument, and from the first purling notes, it was clear that a glorious new era has dawned. Perfectly voiced, the piano speaks with chiseled clarity at the softest dynamic levels, and when it roars, it’s almost more than the room can withstand.
Lortie’s concert put the instrument through its paces. He offered the second and third books of “Annees de Pelerinage,” the latter being of particular interest, because other than the magical “Les Jeux d’Eaux a la Villa d’Este,” its dour, morose numbers rarely find their way onto recital programs.
Liszt was a much different composer in his later years; no longer preoccupied with advancing his career, he gazed into the abyss and tried to see the future. The works from this period have a dryness and even irony as they turn away from the bathos and pianistic theatrics of yore.
Lortie, who has maintained his spot atop the second tier of solo pianists for decades, had the full measure of this music. His wistful poetry in the “Petrarch Sonnet 123” and the second “Threnodie” was affecting without being self-indulgent. “Les Jeux d’Eaux” was note-perfect and scintillating, and the fireworks from the “Dante” sonata were delivered without strain or fuss. A very fine recital.
Battey is a freelance writer.