‘… a bundle of yellowed love letters…’ Busoni’s description of Ricordanza, Liszt’s ninth Transcendental Etude, has yet to be bettered. The curvaceous, beautifully shaped melody has the style of an Italian cantilena, but this is not a Chopinesque imitation; the melody was composed when Liszt was a teenager, well before he met Chopin. A singing tone, discreet accompaniment, awareness of harmonic colour and fleet-fingered, quiet RH runs and arpeggios – these are all needed, as well as some patience while working out the filigree cadenzas which adorn some of the pages. They are rather an optical illusion; written in small print, usually demisemiquavers and horribly black with accidentals and leger lines, the sight of them is enough to put anyone off; usually, though, they fall into a repeated pattern and are very playable. Liszt was practical. As ever, the Italian directions give clues to interpretation: dolce, con grazia (ed intimo sentimento) at one point, lamentavole at another, and so on. You can follow the score while listening to Ovchinnikov here –
The following Etude is a real contrast – Allegro agitato molto – and that’s it. No other title. But that says it all. The original version was in single RH notes; the 1851 version uses interlocking hands in chordal clusters for the introductory idea, and then a syncopated, semitone-riddled theme, breathless and agitated, accompanied by a restless LH figure. An ff, impassioned lyrical melody completes the thematic ingredients.
Succinct, by turns violent and imploring, and imbued with that angst-ridden descending semitone, this is a splendid Etude, especially for the LH. Appassionato, tempestuoso – and highly recommended.