Franz Liszt: Rhapsodies, Etudes and Transcriptions
2022 / Centaur
Review by Kathy Parsons
Sophia Agranovich is often referred to as "the tigress of the piano" - an intriguing title, indeed! - so it should come as no surprise that she has successfully tackled some of Franz Liszt's most challenging solo piano music and made it her own. Franz Liszt: Rhapsodies, Etudes and Transcriptions is a collection of two of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsodies" (Nos. 6 and 13), three of his transcriptions of works by Franz Schubert ("Standchen [Serenade]," "Erlkönig [Elf King]," and "Die Forelle [The Trout]," and two of Liszt's "Transcendental Etudes" (Nos. 9 and 4). Ms Agranovich's artistry is dazzling as she easily transitions from bravura passages to passages of fragile beauty and delicate tenderness - truly a breathtaking performance! Making the project even more personal, Ms Agranovich also wrote all of the liner notes which explain the history of each piece as well as its structure and her approach to it - very enlightening!
A native of Ukraine, Sophia Agranovich's concerts were broadcast on national television and radio from the time she was 6. Despite being the youngest participant, she won the Ukrainian Young Artists Competition when she was 10. She came to the US at 15 to begin her studies at Juilliard and went on to earn her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees there. She began working on her Doctorate at Columbia University, but put that off to raise a family, which led to a 23-year career in Information Technology. In addition to her concert performances and recordings, Ms Agranovich is an acclaimed lecturer, chamber musician, adjudicator and master class clinician. An esteemed educator who has won many teaching awards, Ms Agranovich’s students consistently win top honors in regional, national and international competitions and often perform at prestigious venues. She is a Steinway Artist.
The album begins with "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, S. 244/6, in D-flat Major," which was composed in 1847. The piece consists of four sections, each based on a Hungarian folk melody and each quite different from the others. From light-hearted and dance-like to funereal, Ms Agranovich's expressive virtuosity brings the rhapsody to life.
"Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13, S. 244/13, in A minor" was also composed in 1847 and is one of the least-performed of Liszt's rhapsodies. The broad emotional range from deep melancholy to impassioned to joyful and dancelike is a musical thrill-ride!
Franz Schubert's "Standchen" has been one of my favorite pieces since childhood when Mom would often play it after my brother and I went to bed. Originally composed as a vocal piece with piano accompaniment, Liszt's transcription focuses on the beauty of the melody without adding a lot of flash to it - soulful and very beautiful.
Who can resist the drama of Schubert's "Erlkönig ('Elf King'), S. 558 No. 4 (Schubert - Op. 1, D. 328)"? Based on a poem by Goethe, the piece has been described as one of the "commanding compositions of the century" - an amazing performance!
Liszt took more liberties with "Die Forelle ('The Trout'), S. 554 (Schubert: D 550)" than the other two Schubert pieces. Bright and sparkling, Ms Agranovich imbues it with grace and elegance.
"Transcendental Étude No. 9 in A-flat, 'Ricordanza' ('Remembrance')" was referred to as "a bundle of faded love letters" by Ferruccio Busoni. Ms Agranovich says in the liner notes: "This Étude challenges performer’s ability to evoke the rainbow of subtle and contrasting emotions: from bitter- sweet memories of joyful times to poignancy and desperation, from capricious flirty mood to throes of heart pain." She handles it beautifully!
"Transcendental Étude No. 4 in D minor, 'Mazeppa'" is based on a poem by Victor Hugo and is ranked as one of the most difficult of the "Transcendental Etudes." Again quoting the liner notes: "It demands endurance, great speed and virtuosity, due to the abundance of double notes, octaves and chords that jump spanning multiple octaves, in imitation of horse’s gallop." Another jaw-dropping performance!
I hope I have the opportunity to see Sophia Agranovich in concert sometime! She is simply amazing! Franz Liszt: Rhapsodies, Etudes and Transcriptions is available on Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify. If you want to hear a virtuoso performance that overflows with heart and soul, you're going to love this one!
August 14, 2022