The unusual format of this recital — half an hour of spoken introduction, then an intermission before the main even — provided an ideal setting for Adam Neiman’s enthralling 65-minute performance of the twelve Transcendental Etudes of Franz Liszt. This series not only demands to be heard as a single sustained performance; it also rewards the listener’s investment many times over in terms of satisfaction. One would not wish it any shorter, nor could one ask for a more articulate advocate for the composer and the work than Neiman, who lectured with the same grace, precision, and passion that he applies when he commands the keys.

Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes are, according to Neiman, his “greatest contribution to the literature for the piano” — quite a claim when you consider this is Liszt we’re talking about, as a composer the “most pivotal artist of the 19th century.” The etudes are “transcendent” not so much because they are difficult to play, which they certainly are, but because, in Neiman’s words, “each etude expresses an idea of transformation.” All evening, and particularly during “Ricordanza,” the ninth etude, in which a simple melody carries the supple abundance of Lisztian embellishment, Neiman soared, using the specific nature of each individual segment to reshape and to focus the structure and meaning of more than an hour of sound.


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