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Liszt: Harmonies Poetiques Et Religieuses / Jenny Lin, Adam Tendler

Release Date: 10/01/2021
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30189
Composer:  Franz Liszt Performer:  Adam Tendler ,  Jenny Lin Number of Discs: 1

Performed by pianists Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler, Liszt’s rarely heard Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is a sublime example of Liszt’s early compositions.

Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler alternate the movements of this monumental piano cycle. 

“We’re raised on this stuff. It’s in our bones. And now we can come at this music with a different kind of lens.”
— Adam Tendler

“This is definitely a very private Liszt, one who’s retreated to his inner self.”
— Jenny Lin

“Few performers are willing to take on not only its daunting scale, but also its grueling restraint —A cohesion held together in a delicate tension of wild Romanticism and controlled
Read more transparency. Mr. Tendler and Ms. Lin aren’t typically associated with Liszt, or 19th-century music at all. But, to them, that’s part of the fun. It didn’t take long for them to see just how modern Harmonies poétiques et religieuses can be.”
— New York Times

Album Credits:
Recorded September 19, 2019 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sclafani
Assistant Engineer: Melody Nieun Hwang
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Photo of Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler: Kevin Condon
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Piano Technician: Lauren Sclafani
Piano: Steinway Model D # 610511 (Hamburg)

"Here are a couple of recent releases characterized by beautifully considered and emotive piano playing combined with some peculiar presentation decisions. Liszt’s complete, 80-minute-plus set of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (1847) is not heard particularly frequently, which is a shame: inspired by the poetry of Alphonse de Lamartine, whose work also underlies the famous symphonic poem Les Préludes, these 10 pieces go beyond virtuosity to bring out tonal color and harmonic experimentation in ways quite different from what the composer did elsewhere. They are more inward-looking than the superficially similar but more-popular, more-externally-focused first two books of Années de Pèlerinage (1848-1854 and 1837-1849) and less dark-hued than the third book of Années (1867-1877). The dates of composition (not publication) are noteworthy, because they show that although Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is a comparatively early work, it was created when Liszt had already attained the same mastery of form and technique put on display in the first two Années, but without the near-mystical darkness of the third of those suites. Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is intensely personal Liszt with pervasive spiritual underpinnings, not solely in the overtly religious Ave Maria, Pater Noster and Funérailles (the most-often-heard piece from this set), but throughout. It is a very difficult suite to perform complete and in some ways a difficult one to hear from start to finish: there is just so much going on, with such great intensity of feeling. It is nevertheless rather peculiar that the new Steinway & Sons release of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses splits the 10 pieces between two pianists, giving five apiece to Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler. Both performers are quite fine, certainly equal to the suite’s numerous technical challenges and equally well attuned both to Liszt’s expressiveness and to his structural creativity. But Liszt did not write Harmonies poétiques et religieuses to be played as a collaborative exercise, and although there is nothing particularly jarring here when one pianist is succeeded by the other on the next track, the whole performance-mixture concept comes across as more than a little strange. Tendler plays Nos. 1 (Invocation), 4 (Pensée des Morts), 5 (Pater Noster), 8 (Miserere d’après Palestrina), and 9 (Andante lagrimoso), which means, among other things, that he handles the intense lament in No. 4 but does not get to compare and contrast it with the mood of No. 7, Funérailles. Jenny Lin handles No. 7 along with Nos. 2 (Ave Maria), 3 (Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude), 6 (Hymne de l’enfant à son réveil), and 10 (Cantique d’amour). Thus, Lin presents the simple beauties of Ave Maria, but Tendler handles the expanded versions of older forms in Pater Noster and Miserere d’après Palestrina. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of this, and in fact the playing throughout is first-rate, the performers in such close emotional harmony with the music and each other that this recording is an easy one to recommend with enthusiasm. It is nevertheless inescapable that if either Lin or Tendler had recorded Harmonies poétiques et religieuses in its entirety, there would have been differences of style and emphasis from what is heard here – most likely subtle ones, true, but ones that would have provided additional insight into the way a single pianist, either Lin or Tendler, had accompanied Liszt on a journey more inward than that of the first two books of Années de Pèlerinage..."

Pianists Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler are known mostly for contemporary experimental music and hardly at all for Liszt. Steinway & Sons doesn't make clear how this recording came about, but the pair maintained their avant-garde cred by performing the music at a cemetery. The Harmonies poétiques et religieuses are not heard terribly often. They are an unwieldy set of ten large pieces, and for the most part, they don't have the thundering virtuosity Liszt's audiences look for; inspired by poems of Alphonse de Lamartine (and in some cases reworked from other pieces, including choral music of Palestrina), they have even more of an improvisatory flavor than is the norm for Liszt. Unusually, Lin and Tendler divide the ten works in the cycle between themselves. However, they deliver a coherent set. Lin is perhaps a bit more deliberate on the whole, but there's no lurch between the contributions of the two pianists. As one might expect, these are not gate-storming Liszt performances and not exceptionally dramatic ones. One could wish for a spookier beginning, for instance, to the fourth piece, which goes back to a highly experimental Liszt composition of 1834, but Lin and Tendler set out instead to capture the strangeness of the music, its modernity, which was considerable in 1847, when Liszt completed the set, and even greater in 1834. Their performances are interior, moody, mysterious, and they revel in the music's variety and its exploratory quality. Moreover, in these lengthy and somewhat unconnected pieces, their energy does not flag. The Steinway Hall sound is, as usual, exceptionally good, and one hopes for more work from either or both of these forward-thinking pianists on this label, which has presented 19th century piano music in consistently fresh ways.


Two formidable pianists, both known for their commitment to contemporary music, turn their attention to one of Liszt’s most curious works. Although there are ample opportunities for the Liszt we know and love (as with `Funerailles’), most of these pieces almost seem like liturgical music (`Invocation’, `Ave Maria’). The pianists share the duties, each performing 5 of the 10 pieces (though Lin plays both of the better known ones, `Funerailles’ and `Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude’). The general approach is summed up fairly well by a short quotation by Tendler: “We’re raised on this stuff. It’s in our bones. And now we can come at this music with a different kind of lens.” But the lens isn’t very different from the more restrained readings of Osborne (May/June 2004) and, to a lesser extent, Engerer (July/Aug 2011). All things considered, I prefer Engerer, if for no other reason than the more unified conception from a single pianist. But that’s only for the more classical performances. Frankly, I’m now more in the camp that Alan Walker, who advised that Liszt should be played in a classical, somewhat antiromantic way, probably would not like. Both Plano (Nov/Dec 2016) and Korstick (May/June 2016) deliver the goods in spades. Of Korstick, Mr Becker advises that it “is simply too good to ignore”, superseding the Jerome Rose recording on Vox, a three-disc vinyl collection that apparently was not reissued on CD. This is less a condemnation of Lin and Tendler—I admire their playing very much—than a preference for a more old-fashioned approach to these works. For Lin and Tendler fans, this set, odd as it may be, is probably a must-have.

-- American Record Guide

Most of all, why do the pianists—in their very brief discussion of the music—stress the intimacy, the privacy, the “grueling restraint” of the score? As I’ve said, they do recognize its “daunting scale,” but it’s clear that the gentle is foremost in their minds. “This is definitely a very private Liszt, one who’s retreated to his inner self,” Lin says. “I don’t think you could do this at Carnegie Hall. It would be weird.” Granted, there are some restrained pieces scattered through the collection—but those nuggets of restraint are all on the short side. The larger works—even the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, a private meditation on faith—are all imposing and virtuosic. Thus, I’d argue that to the extent Harmonies is really a single unified work, the more restrained pieces serve primarily to provide cushions against the grander outbursts. And while you could certainly argue the opposite—that works like Bénédiction and Funérailles serve to underscore the tenderness, say, of the Pater noster—I don’t see how these performances support the cause. Tendler’s vehement reading of the opening Invocation doesn’t set us up for intimacy—nor does Lin’s punchy account of Cantique d’amour wind things up in a way that fosters reflection. And there’s a lot of roiling high drama in between.

This agitation may have something to do with the Modernism that the pianists are seeking out. These are, for the most part, slightly hard, angular performances that stress detail (often inner detail) at the expense of the long line. They’re not rhythmically stiff—but lyricism is often shortchanged, and with it the sense of repose this music can bring. And while I wouldn’t call the performances tonally steely, I wouldn’t say, either, that the pianists rely heavily on tonal sensitivity to make their points.

I don’t mean to condemn the enterprise. Lin is among my favorite pianists (see my review of her Prokofiev and Zaborov, Fanfare 41:1), and Tendler is a solid partner—and they both have a lot to offer here. I especially enjoyed Lin’s high velocity and surprisingly light-fingered (but surely not intimate) Funérailles and Tendler’s gently drawn-out Pater noster, a work that’s not easy to bring off. Lin’s assertive Bénédiction (with its stress on the conflicts among the inner lines) and Tendler’s high contrast Miserere d’après Palestrina are worthy additions to your Liszt collection, too. No complaints about the engineering, either—although, as I’ve said, serious annotation would have been welcome.

-- Fanfare Read less