No man was more lionized in Paris in the first half of the 19th century than Franz Liszt. When he played the piano, beautiful women, always happy to be near him, tended to swoon, while strong men shouted their praises.
Last night in the Kennedy Center, Jorge Bolet played a Liszt concert that served handsomely as a reminder of the emotions Liszt's playing aroused. There was the D Flat Consolation for ravishment, and the Funerailles and the B Minor Sonata, for thunder. For sheer delight in glittering cascades of notes, with frequent chromatic floods, there were three Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs.
And finally there was that epitome of the arrangement of a popular opera, Liszt's version of scenes from Mozart's "Don Giovanni," the kind of thing that led to broken piano strings in Parisian concert halls and broken hearts among the hearers.
Bolet was truly in great form for the exhausting assignment. The Sonata, whih is the crown of any program on which it appears, was ideally set out with rare delicacy of touch, exquisite singing tone, marvels of pedaling, and a feeling for the style that led to impeccable tempos throughout. The Consolation was a dream of serenity, and Funerailles, marvelously restrained, a somber funeral march. The evening included as an encore one of the transcriptions of a Chopin song. It was all as it could have been in Paris a century and a quarter ago. The audience stood at the end in appropriate tribute.