Performing and recording the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is a real initiatory journey, which runs the gamut from extreme austerity to supreme ecstasy. I played these pieces a fair number of times before I recorded them. It’s music that requires a long period of maturation, because, over and above virtuosity, it demands an inner development on the part of the interpreter, an almost philosophical voyage of introspection.
Liszt’s cycle of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Poetic and Religious Harmonies), inspired by Lamartine, juxtaposes angelic pieces, mystical atmospheres and powerful frescoes such as Funérailles and Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude. If the Transcendental Studies present singular challenges to the instrumentalist, if the Années de pèlerinage are inspired by the impressions left by the composer’s travels, the books he had read, the works of art he had seen, the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses are the mystical face of Franz Liszt’s pianistic output. Visions mournful (Pensée des morts) or celestial (Cantique d’amour), darkly heroic epics (Funérailles), noble lamentations (Andante Lagrimoso): here is Liszt in all his diversity. Outstanding even in this company is Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, one of the composer’s finest pieces, a fresco of lofty spirituality.
The pianist Vanessa Wagner has chosen to interpolate three pieces by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in these excerpts from the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. They are characterised by a decanted musical style, deeply religious in its inspiration, rooted in Gregorian chant and early polyphony.
This coupling is a world premiere and it is surprising that no one has yet thought of it, so close are the styles of the two composers. The atmosphere of the disc will be deeply mystical, seeking to suspend the musical gesture.