Liszt: The Complete Piano Music, Leslie Howard – review

Hyperion (99 CDs)

Completism gone mad? 7,255 minutes 25 seconds of Liszt – carefully described as "every known note" of his piano music, since forgotten manuscripts still turn up in sale rooms – should be enough for most tastes. Leslie Howard, distinguished pianist and Liszt obsessive of the highest order, has been recording these discs for Hyperion for more than two decades. Now colour-coded into categories such as "National Themes" or "Rare Works and New Discoveries", with five subdivisions for "Transcriptions" alone, this 99-disc box set has been released to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Liszt's birth. The accompanying programme booklet has a concise introduction by Howard and an invaluable index of works.

Logically I started with disc No 1, The Young Liszt, which includes "Variation on a Theme by Diabelli" – not quite up to Beethoven's standard but still inventive – as well as some short bravura etudes. I have the appetite, so far, to work through the entire set as the year progresses. For practical purposes here, knowing some of these discs already, I chose the Années de pèlerinage, the B Minor sonata, the piano concerto No 2 and the ever enthralling Beethoven symphonies transcriptions, which enabled audiences to familiarise themselves with these works early in their lifetime. Liszt, one of music's greatest innovators, tends to be known by a tiny fraction of his work. Here's a chance to see the fuller picture. The retail price is around £180 – less if ordered online through Hyperion, which begins to feel like a snap-it-up bargain.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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