Maybe it was this context, but I was far more impressed with Liszt’s Second Concerto than I’ve ever been before. Alexander Markovich walked onstage and immediately captured attention, by means of being the most morbidly obese person I’ve ever seen at a classical concert. It actually affects his playing technique, since he has to hold his arms up over his own girth. But, as my friend pointed out, it also affects his theatricality, because his rather large face amplifies any sort of feelings he’s going through – feelings of intensity, or wicked grins, sort of bubble across the chins. At any rate, his pianism had absolutely everything Liszt demands: brilliant technique, great poetry, fire and brimstone. It was a fantastic performance matched by the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski at every point: I think the reason I liked the concerto so much in this performance, compared to so little on the Cziffra CD, was the excited, brilliantly on-point accompaniment, which played up the humor (!) in one of the central episodes and riveted everywhere else.
Google reveals a fellow blogger says Markovich had “the unalloyed joy of a five-year-old.” That’s basically true, and part of his appeal. Plus, he played an encore of enormous wit and good humor, all the way through which he grinned like a little kid and seemed to watch his own fingers the way a child watches cookies baking or Michael Jordan playing ball. It was a piano arrangement of Waldteufel’s Les patineurs, souped up to be absurdly difficult and merrily silly. I suspected Godowsky, but his unofficial website’s list of works doesn’t allude to Waldteufel at all. Samuil Feinberg and Marc-Andre Hamelin similarly pleaded innocence. Heck, I’ll claim to have written it. Markovich had a blast, so we all did too.
After the interval came Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, with soprano Melanie Diener and no less than Thomas Hampson taking the baritone role. I’d never heard the piece before, and on first listen, it has some riveting sections and a couple which were less appealing. One problem was Diener, who struggled to make herself heard. Hampson, of course, is a class act, and every one of his songs was a stunner. The orchestral accompaniment is a miracle of music-making, for it has all the wild movement and oscillation of an oceanscape, uses huge numbers of instruments really well, and transitions from one mood to another really easily. If a couple songs let me down, others were gripping; my friend lost interest halfway through (it is 48 minutes), but that was sad because my favorite part was the very last, when Hampson took a seat and the orchestra wound down to a blissful, breathtaking conclusion.