While reaction fell a little short of Lisztomania, there was plenty of enthusiasm as Red Deer Symphony Orchestra paid tribute to classical music’s first rock god Franz Liszt.
A mesmerizing virtuoso pianist with swoon-inducing good looks as a young man, Liszt created a 1960s Beatles-like buzz dubbed Lisztomania in its day.
Despite his bad boy beginnings featuring much boozing and scandalous affairs, Liszt evolved into a dedicated and reflective composer.
Four of his works were performed on Saturday to mark the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth on Oct. 22, 1811.
The concert opened with Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, as orchestrated by Karl Müller-Berghaus, a piece that draws on Liszt’s fascination with Hungarian folk music and the tunes played by the Roma people, or Gypsies.
Melodies Liszt picked up from his travels to Gypsy communities were incorporated into the rhapsody, which follows a traditional Hungarian form that sees a slow section leading into a lighter, higher tempo section.
In Hungarian Rhapsody, the faster second half has been frequently borrowed for cartoons where its lightning-fast tempo and jaunty melody are a natural fit. It was impossible not to conjure up memories of Bugs Bunny’s Rhapsody Rabbit .
In the second piece, Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, the audience was introduced to guest pianist Sandor Falvai of Hungary.
Falvai has been a professor at the Liszt Academy of Music since 1972 and has enjoyed an award-winning international career that has spanned decades and produced more than 30 recordings.
The piece opens with an almost dream-like contribution from the piano before a sudden switch of tempo gave Falvai an opportunity to showcase his well-recognized skills. The movement of his hands and his light touch was a joy to watch. He didn’t so much as play the piano as coax notes from the instrument.
The piece itself switched back and forth from lightness to stirring passages that at one point even had echoes of a martial air before ending in a flourish that drew a standing ovation.
The second piece featuring Falvai, Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies, opens with an almost ominous tone that soon gives way to Falvai’s piano and his effortless moves between delicate and powerful key strokes.
At times, the piano and orchestra seemed to duel playfully before uniting for the big finish.
The pieces pose such a challenge that they were purposely placed before and after intermission to give Falvai a rest between solos, said conductor Claude Lapalme.
Les Préludes — Symphonische Dichtung rounded out the concert and felt the most mellow. Although with Liszt, the music never sits still.
A long reflective section soon gave way to a dramatic change in mood like a sudden windstorm rising and whipping through trees only to be followed by the plaintive sound of woodwinds as calm is once again restored.
It all ended with joyful exuberance of booming kettle drums and crashing cymbals that once again had the audience on their feet.
In a nice touch, the concert opened with the playing of both the Hungarian and Canadian national anthems, as well as a short introduction from Hungary’s honorary consul to Alberta.