Sleevenotes from PFCD210/211 Kenneth Hamilton plays Liszt – Volume 2: Salon and Stage
1. Richard Wagner/Franz Liszt: Overture to Tannhäuser
2. Wagner/Liszt: “Song to the Evening Star” from Tannhäuser
3. Franz Schubert/Liszt: Soirée de Vienne no.6 (revised version)
4. Schubert/Liszt: “Leise flehen meine Lieder” (with late cadenza)
5. Wagner/Liszt: “Am stillen Herd” from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
6. Eduard Lassen/Liszt: “Ich weil’ in tiefer Einsamkeit”
7. Lassen/Liszt: “Löse, Himmel, meine Seele”
8. Felix Mendelssohn/Liszt: “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges”
9. Wagner/Liszt: “Spinning Song” from Der fliegende Holländer
10. Charles Gounod/Liszt: Hymn to St Cecilia
1. Peter Tchaikovsky/Liszt: Polonaise from Eugene Onegin
2. Hans von Bülow/Liszt: Dante’s Sonnet
3. Giuseppe Verdi/Liszt: Rigoletto-Paraphrase
4. Giacomo Meyerbeer/Liszt: “Illustration” no.1 from L’Africaine
5. Verdi /Liszt: Aida-Paraphrase
6. Liszt: Liebesträume no.1, “Hohe Liebe”
7. Liszt: Liebesträume no.2, “Seliger Tod”
8. Liszt: Liebesträume no.3, “O Lieb”
9. Verdi/Liszt: Ernani-Paraphrase
10. Clara Schumann/Liszt: “Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort”
11. Gounod/Liszt: Waltz from Faust
This album is dedicated, with affection and gratitude, to my tutor John Warrack.
If – heaven forbid – all original scores of 19th-century opera and song were to vanish in some sort of bizarrely selective cataclysm, then the arrangements by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) would still preserve some of their finest passages, lovingly laid out for the keyboard by the century’s greatest pianist, enriched by the imagination of one of its most daring composers. In fact, Liszt’s fantasies and transcriptions were composed with such genuine creativity, and with such consummate command of pianistic effect (“the classicism of keyboard technique”, according to Johannes Brahms) that they effectively constitute original works in their own right. Robert Schumann made that point long ago in a bedazzled review of Liszt’s first major transcription: his gargantuan version of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. In contrast to the reception of Liszt’s completely original pieces, which were castigated by most conservative critics, Liszt’s genius as supremely adept arranger for the keyboard was generally acknowledged from the outset. As an old man, he used to joke to his students: “You won’t have success with my original music – everyone knows I have no talent as a composer. But I do have some modest ability as a transcriber!”
This album does not include the Symphonie Fantastique transcription – it will feature in a later instalment of the series – but it does offer a varied selection of virtuoso fantasies and arrangements deriving from salon and stage works – in other words, from Lieder and operas. However, as the most enjoyable order to listen to these pieces is not necessarily the most sensible sequence in which to write about them – prose narrative flows differently from musical narrative – I have included the relevant track number when a work is first discussed in the liner notes.
So, like Schrödinger’s celebrated cat, uncannily alive and dead at the same time, Liszt’s arrangements are simultaneously original and non-original. At his most cautious, Liszt confines himself merely to pianistic adaptations and a couple of minor cadenzas as in his stupendous transcription of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture (CD 1, track 1), but at his most extravagant he produces a piece like the luxuriously re-upholstered Hymn to St Cecilia (CD 1, track 10), which is nearly twice the length of Gounod’s unassuming original, and of considerably greater sophistication. Liszt once declared that “a transcription ought to have a certain conjugal fidelity to the original”, but in practice, he more often followed St Augustine’s famous prayer: “O Lord, grant me chastity – but not yet!”
I have long admired the pieces included on this album, and completed a doctoral dissertation on Liszt as a transcriber more decades ago than I now dare to remember. At that time, only a few perennial favourites, like the Rigoletto Paraphrase (CD 2, track 3), regularly appeared on concert programmes; many of Liszt’s manuscripts were “behind the iron curtain” in Weimar and Budapest; and the scores of the more obscure pieces were nigh- on unobtainable. This is far from the case today. Nevertheless, some of the works on the album, like the evocative first “Illustration” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine (CD 2, track 4) or the memorably melodic Lieder by Lassen (CD 1, tracks 6-7) remain relatively rarely heard. With the more popular pieces, I’ve tried to depart a little from the performance path usually trod. The recording of Schubert’s haunting “Leise flehen meine Lieder” (CD 1, track 4), for example, includes a witty cadenza composed by Liszt in 1880, over 40 years after completing the rest of the arrangement. The Rigoletto Paraphrase features my own modest extension of the final bars – taking seriously Liszt’s comment that the ability to play such pieces bestows the right to make modifications. And the famous third Liebestraum adopts some reinforcements to the climax derived from the refreshingly non-indulgent recording (1926) by my fellow Glaswegian Frederick Lamond (1868-1948), who studied the piece with the composer, and even played it in his presence in a London concert on 15 April 1886 – one of the very last piano recitals Liszt attended before his death on 31 July.
All three of the lovely Liebesträume (Love-Dreams) are smuggled onto CD 2 (tracks 6-8) under the guise of “self-transcriptions”. Liszt composed the songs to poems by Ludwig Uhland – “Hohe Liebe” (Exalted Love) and “Seliger Tod” (Blissful Death) – and by Ferdinand Freiligrath – “O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst” (O love as long as you can love) – before transforming them into luscious “nocturnes” for piano solo. The nocturne versions are, if anything, even more irresistible than the original songs – and with the third Liebestraum we have the added benefit of not having to listen to Freiligrath’s truly awful text, with its finger-wagging advice to “guard your tongue – it’s easy to say a wounding word”. Incidentally, Liszt himself did offer more practical counsel to his students on the playing of these pieces, namely to eschew strict time-keeping while playing the first Liebestraum (“it should sound utterly lost in a dream”, he said, “not as if you were counting 1-2-3-4 as in the Leipzig Conservatory!”) and to avoid sluggish sentimentality when playing the third. Quoting the poem, he advised: “Love as long as you can love – that’s how it goes. And remember, it doesn’t usually last very long!”
The Liebesträume were obviously influenced by “On Wings of Song” (CD 1, track 8), composed by none other than Felix Mendelssohn – founder of the Leipzig Conservatory that Liszt so much despised – to a richly figurative poem by Heinrich Heine. Liszt had arranged Mendelssohn’s song for piano several years before embarking on his own “Love-Dreams”. He transcribed the first stanza in a fairly straightforward fashion, but then made more elaborate demands on the pianist as the piece unfolds, including some highly un-Mendelssohnian leaps in the right hand that must be played with elegant aplomb, as if they really weren’t difficult at all. But they are, alas.
Whatever Liszt did, as Mendelssohn once observed, his own ideas eventually predominated. If the “source” composer didn’t write in the original what Liszt himself would have written, then he had no qualms about making the requisite revisions. He added, for instance, a surprisingly whimsical “wrong note” to the tune of Verdi’s “Bella figlia d’amore” in the Rigoletto Paraphrase, treating the confected “mistake” as a springboard for some weird and wonderful harmonic excursions. (Liszt also advised his piano students to declaim the initial melody “as if sung by a stupid tenor, glowing with ardour” – in other words, no reticence needed!). As cherries on the cake, he then composed, in both the Rigoletto and the Ernani Paraphrase (CD 2, track 9) dazzlingly colourful conclusions more redolent of the Liszt/Wagner “music of the future” than of anything Verdi himself might have penned. Like the Rigoletto, the Ernani piece is based on only one section of its respective opera, the nobly swaggering baritone aria “O sommo Carlo”. But the Aida Paraphrase (CD 2, track 5) ranges wider, encompassing the priests’ hymn to their god Phtha, the temple dances and the opera’s unforgettable final duet. Again, the last scene is refashioned into an ecstatic Wagnerian love-death for which we will search the opera’s original score in vain. Verdi was luckily more amused than outraged. He generously congratulated Liszt on his imagination, as the latter proudly told his pupils.
Liszt may have turned Verdi into an honorary member of the “New German School”, but he was at least an equal-opportunity interferer, and Lisztified other composers’ works in a similar fashion. It would, for example, be easy to mistake many passages in his swashbuckling arrangement (1879) of the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin (CD 2, track 1) for “original” late Liszt: phrase lengths are altered, harmonies changed, and whimsical variants introduced. Most striking is the studied avoidance of straightforward “full” cadences, even at the work’s applause-inducing conclusion. As Liszt remarked to another Russian composer, César Cui, he had come to feel that using root position harmonies was like trying to dance in a pair of clogs.
The Waltz from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust (CD 2, track 11) was given an earlier makeover by Liszt in 1861. Despite its title, the piece offers more than just the waltz. The filigree reverie of the central section is an expanded reminiscence of the music associated with the first meeting of Faust and Marguerite, while the surrounding waltz tunes are themselves recast into sonata form, then further varied as they go along. It’s a fabulous piece – a virtuoso vehicle no less overwhelming than Liszt’s own first Mephisto Waltz, but entirely without the acerbic sarcasm: Mephistopheles on his best behaviour.
As already mentioned, Gounod’s Hymn to St Cecilia (1866) was subjected to a similar expansion. The piece was originally an instrumental – not a vocal – work for the counter-intuitive combination of solo violin, harp, winds and percussion. Liszt’s transcription shares several traits with his version, written around the same time, of the Sailors’ Prayer “O Great St Dominic”, the first of his two “Illustrations” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera L’Africaine (CD 2, track 4). The “Illustrations” were composed at the behest of one of Liszt’s publishers, who wished to capitalize on the recent premier of Meyerbeer’s final (posthumously produced) opera. It’s probably safe to assume that Liszt’s limpid and loving expansion of the Hymn to St Cecilia was the product of a related request (Gounod’s edition of the Hymn had appeared only the year before), but in this case publication was delayed somewhat. Liszt mislaid the manuscript, and an attempt by one of his students to find it was in vain. The piece did not eventually appear in print until 1993.
It is no coincidence that both the Gounod and the Meyerbeer transcriptions are on “saintly” topics. In 1865, Liszt – to general amazement – took minor orders in the Catholic church. He was accordingly entitled to wear a priest’s cassock, and he often did so during the last two decades of his life. But his new clerical status did give him some passing qualms about being too greatly involved in “worldly” music, hence the religious slant of these two transcriptions. These were nevertheless only temporary concerns, already forgotten by the time he wrote the second “Illustration” from L’Africaine, based on the opera’s undeniably secular ballet music.
Although Liszt’s reworking of themes from L’Africaine was at least as fundamental as his revisions to Gounod’s music, he remained a massive admirer of Meyerbeer’s operas, even in the face of Wagner’s increasingly intemperate public criticism (privately, Wagner was much more nuanced). In any case, Meyerbeer was so successful that he was almost immune to attack, and hardly needed any assistance from Liszt in popularizing his music through piano transcriptions. The opposite was true for Wagner.
According to Liszt himself, his Wagner transcriptions were merely “modest propaganda on the inadequate piano for the sublime genius of Richard Wagner”. But they were of greater significance than that, playing as they did a crucial role in keeping Wagner’s music in the public eye (and ear) following his participation in the failed 1848-9 German revolution, and his resulting exile to Switzerland. Suddenly finding himself an outlaw in his own land, Wagner relied on Liszt to conduct the 1850 world premiere of Lohengrin in Weimar, to proselytise for his operas in prose (Liszt published several sprawling essays, all of them enthusiastically ghost-written by his prolix partner Princess Wittgenstein), and of course to lend him money. To be sure, Wagner borrowed money from almost everyone – nothing unusual there – but Liszt’s artistic support was uniquely useful, partly because Liszt was one of the most famous, or notorious, musicians in Europe at the time, and partly because, as an avant-garde composer himself, he was capable of close artistic engagement with what many regarded as Wagner’s preposterously complex music.
Liszt was hardly a neutral propagandist, nor an empty vessel himself, and naturally projected a personal view of Wagner’s music when making his transcriptions. He added his own languidly chromatic coda to the Tannhäuser “Evening Star” song (CD 1, track 2) and gently “Lisztified” the harmony of the “Spinning Song” from the Flying Dutchman (CD 1, track 9), again adding a new, this time sparklingly iridescent, conclusion. But in “By the quiet hearth” (Am stillen Herd) from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (CD 1, track 5), he went completely to town. Here it’s easy to imagine that we’re eavesdropping on Liszt getting completely carried away, eagerly improvising sequence after sequence on the melody. To paraphrase Mr Spock, “It’s Wagner, Jim, but not as we know it”.
Of course, despite the additions, expansions and revisions in his arrangements, Liszt regarded Wagner as unquestionably the greatest genius of the era (as indeed did Wagner himself). He remained loyal to the music-dramas even after Wagner married his daughter Cosima, an event that caused Liszt no little heartache, as to do so Cosima had not only to convert to Protestantism, but also divorce her first husband Hans von Bülow, one of Liszt’s former pupils, and among his closest friends. Cosima thus became a muse to Wagner in the same way as her own mother, Marie d’Agoult, had become a muse to Liszt.
Hans von Bülow himself may not have had a starring role in the Liszt/ Wagner/Cosima soap opera, but he unquestionably headed up the supporting cast. An undeniably great pianist, and a reasonably decent composer, he masterfully conducted the premieres of both Tristan and Isolde and Die Meistersinger while defiantly choosing to ignore the fact that his wife was having an affair with their creator. And when Wagner finally married Cosima, Bülow’s famous wit came firmly to the fore: “Do you actually know Herr Wagner personally, Dr von Bülow?”, an Edinburgh matron once gauchely asked him, after he had conducted a concert in the city. “Of course, madam!”, was Bülow’s staccato reply – “he is my wife’s husband!”
Bülow might well have been recognized as one of the most notable musical geniuses of the 19th century had he not had the misfortune – or the luck – to be surrounded by even greater talents. His captivatingly tuneful setting of Dante’s sonnet “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta” (How kind and honest my lady looks – CD 2, track 2) is a winningly seductive work, its virtues further heightened by Liszt’s delicately crystalline arrangement for piano solo. No doubt Liszt was drawn to the piece partly because it was so obviously influenced by his own three Petrarch Sonnets. We can let Liszt himself fill in some of the context. In 1874 he wrote to his close friend, Baroness Olga von Meyendorff: “Bülow’s last publication is a Dante sonnet which he has dedicated to the young Countess Masetti on the occasion of her wedding to Count Durazzo-Pallavicini, who is said to have a fortune of 18 million francs. Mlle Masetti has a dowry of one million, and there had been some talk in Florence of her marrying Bülow.” In a later letter to his daughter Cosima, Liszt mentioned that he had been “unable to resist the temptation” of making a “refined” transcription of the “charming” sonnet. And he must have taken a lot of care over it, as the painstakingly detailed manuscript of the arrangement, completed in the Villa d’Este, Liszt’s residence just outside Rome, clearly shows.
Bülow also makes another – this time incognito – appearance as a composer in the arrangements of Schubert waltzes that Liszt first published in 1852 under the title of Soirées de Vienne. There are nine of these Soirées altogether, but no. 6 (CD 1, track 3) soon became by far the most popular, so much so that Liszt used jokingly to call it his musical “Backhendl” (fried chicken) – in other words, a dish that was welcome on every occasion.
Typically, he soon began to get bored with the original version of Soirée no. 6. In 1869 he wrote down some variants in a manuscript (now in the Library of Congress in Washington) for Sophie Menter, his favourite female student, who he thought played “much better than Clara Schumann – although one is not allowed to say that!” Then in 1882 he published a completely new edition of the piece, with yet more (and sometimes different) alterations. As Liszt himself said, “it’s largely a matter of taste which version one prefers”. My recording here is a personal conflation of the 1869 and 1882 versions, influenced a little in its general performance style by the fabulous recording (of the earlier edition of the piece) by Liszt’s student Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946). But the Menter manuscript tells us something else: that the new harmonic progression first heard at 4’22”-27” is not actually by Liszt (nor indeed by Schubert). “These chords”, Liszt scrawls in the corner of the page “are by Hans von Bülow”.
Moreover, Bülow is a hidden thread linking together some of the other pieces in the album. The Rigoletto and Ernani Paraphrases were written for him – as indeed was a third Liszt/Verdi arrangement, of the “Miserere” from Il Trovatore, which will appear in a later instalment of this series. To be sure, Bülow had no direct connection to Liszt’s arrangement of the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, but he did have a close artistic relationship with Tchaikovsky, and was the soloist at the first performance of the Russian composer’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in 1875. What’s more, Bülow premiered Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. (Liszt had by that time officially retired as a pianist). Wagner, present at the performance, was astonished at its overwhelming effect. Not fond, however, of over-effusive compliments, except when he himself was the subject, he afterwards merely remarked: “I had no idea Hans had made such progress with his piano playing.”
There was, therefore, a lively artistic exchange between Liszt and the gifted pupils he taught over the last decades of his life – not just Hans von Bülow and Sophie Menter, but many others as well. Fortunately for us, some of these students survived well into the 20th century, and left accounts of the composer’s teaching, and editions and recordings influenced by it. Lina Ramann’s Liszt Pädagogium, the reminiscences of August Stradal (1860-1930), as well as the diaries of August Göllerich (1859-1923) and Carl Lachmund (1853-1928) are especially valuable. Much more was passed down than sometimes thought. Liszt’s most gifted pupils received copious individual attention and detailed instruction outside of the famous “masterclasses”. This was especially true for those who, like Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932), Göllerich, Stradal and Bernhard Stavenhagen (1862-1914), sporadically took on roles as Liszt’s secretary, reader or amanuensis – which became increasingly necessary as the composer’s eyesight and general health began drastically to decline after 1881.
Liszt did not confine himself to clarification of performance instructions, but actively revised his music with a constant creative re-engagement. I have discussed this more extensively in my chapters ‘‘‘Nach persönlichen Erinnerungen’: Liszt’s long-ignored Legacy to his Students”, in the volume Liszt’s Legacies, and in the chapter “Lisztiana” in my book After the Golden Age.
This series of recordings is, accordingly, an attempt to apply Liszt’s legacy in practice. I have tried as much as possible to imagine myself as a student of Liszt, to absorb his performance advice, or at least what survives of it, and to read his scores in a 19th-century (rather than a “modern”) fashion. For example, I treat “hairpins” as potentially referring to rubato as well as dynamics, adopt revisions and additional ornamentation that Liszt himself recommended, and take a free attitude to arpeggiation and tempo fluctuation. As Liszt himself trenchantly wrote, “a metronomic performance is certainly tiresome and nonsensical; time and rhythm must be adapted to and identified with the harmony, the accent and the poetry. […] My very small amount of pedagogism is, for the most part, confined to the words of St Paul: the letter kills, the spirit gives life.”
The success or failure of this approach should, of course, be judged by the emotional effect of the performances themselves. I have not attempted to copy wholesale any specific recording by a Liszt pupil, nor confined myself to any single historical source, rather to immerse myself in the musical language and its performance tradition, to try to become a “native speaker”, as it were.
Of course, not all the musicians in Liszt’s circle were actual students of the composer. Some were friends, admirers and supporters, like the Danish/Belgian composer Eduard Lassen (1830-1904), who succeeded Liszt as Kapellmeister (court music director) at Weimar after the latter resigned in frustration at the conservatism of the local audience. Lassen’s music rarely hits the headlines, but he did have a knack for coming up with genuinely catchy tunes, as is amply demonstrated by the collection of six Lieder, op. 5, to somewhat cloying poems by Peter Cornelius, that Lassen dedicated to Liszt in 1861. Liszt repaid the dedication immediately by producing an imposing, radically rewritten “concert-arrangement” of one of the songs, “Löse, Himmel, meine Seele” (Heaven release my soul), transposed from the original F major to Liszt’s “divine” key of F# major, to increase the transcendent effect. Over ten years later, in 1872, he returned to the set of songs to transcribe “Ich weil’ in tiefer Einsamkeit” (I languish in profound loneliness). At that point he revised the earlier “Löse, Himmel” transcription, and added a subtle, improvisatory transition between the songs, marrying them musically together. It is this later version that I have recorded here. The two pieces are relatively rarities, but they make a wonderful concert-coupling.
The final hidden thread linking the repertoire runs from Schubert, via Marie d’Agoult, to Clara Schumann. Marie was especially fond of singing Schubert’s songs at home in the 1830s to Liszt’s accompaniment, and several of the letters from the early years of their relationship mention a “volume of Schubert” that held particularly pleasant memories. “Leise flehen meine Lieder” (My songs fly softly through the night to you) was one of the pieces they performed together. It is likely no coincidence that in Liszt’s arrangement the tune is first played in the alto register (Marie’s vocal range), then lowered an octave for the second verse – as if a baritone (Liszt) has taken over the melody – and then finally united in an echo-duet.
Liszt played his arrangement of “Leise flehen meine Lieder” frequently in concert, as indeed he did with his transcription of the Schubert “Ave Maria” – a piece similarly linked in his mind with his own “Maria”. In the late 1830s, the Schubert/Liszt “Ave Maria” was additionally a firm fixture in the repertoire of Clara Wieck (later Clara Schumann). That explains the otherwise curious fact that Robert Schumann’s well-known song “Widmung” (Dedication), written for his wife to be, ends with a seemingly irrelevant quote from Schubert’s “Ave Maria”– it’s a nod to Clara as a pianist. Furthermore, although Clara later professed to detest Liszt’s music, at one time she performed not only “Ave Maria”, but also Liszt’s Fantasy on Pacini’s Niobe.
For his part, Liszt never wavered in his admiration for much of Robert Schumann’s music, and for the little of Clara’s output that he knew. The Schumann songs he arranged in 1874 comprise seven by Robert, and three by Clara, including the rapt “Geheimes Flüstern hier and dort” (Secret whispers here and there), which Clara had composed “with great pleasure” in 1853 to a poem by Hermann Rollett. The text, despite the opening words, does not concern the joys of gossip, but is rather a typically Romantic ode to the glories of the Teutonic forest: “O Wood – consecrated place!” It is an enchanting song. And for once, Liszt left well alone, transcribing it simply and straightforwardly. Even Clara could hardly have complained.
Notes by Kenneth Hamilton
finest players of his generation”, by Tom Service in The Guardian as “pianist, author, lecturer and all-round virtuoso”, and by Stefan Pieper in Klassik Heute as a “pianist, scholar, radical thinker and philosopher”, Kenneth Hamilton is well known as a recitalist and recording artist of emotional depth and striking originality. His CDs have attracted both critical acclaim and a large number of listeners worldwide. His best-selling After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance (Oxford University Press) is one of the most internationally influential books on Classical music performance of recent decades, and has been translated into several languages.
Hamilton is deeply grateful for his pianistic training in Scotland with Lawrence Glover and Ronald Stevenson. He has appeared frequently on radio and television in Britain, the US, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Singapore, Thailand, China and Russia, including a performance of Chopin’s first piano concerto with the Istanbul Chamber Orchestra on Turkish television, and in a dual role as pianist and presenter for the television programme Mendelssohn in Scotland, broadcast by Deutsche Welle Channel. He is a familiar artist on BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service, and a keen communicator, enthusiastically promoting the understanding and appreciation of music. One of his most recent BBC broadcasts, in the series “The Essay: My Life in Music” was described by Sir Nicholas Kenyon in The Observer as “Revelatory […] touching […] a personal story of loss and death that reaches out from the radio. That is what broadcasting is all about”.
Hamilton’s recordings for the Prima Facie label, Kenneth Hamilton Plays Ronald Stevenson (2 volumes), Back to Bach: Tributes and Transcriptions by Liszt, Rachmaninov and Busoni, Preludes to Chopin, More Preludes to Chopin and Romantic Piano Encores have enjoyed outstanding reviews: “played with under-standing and brilliance” (Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review); “an unmissable disk […] fascinating music presented with power, passion and precision” (Colin Clarke, Fanfare); “precise control and brilliance” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian); “thrilling” (Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone); “a gorgeous recording and excellent performance” (Jack Sullivan, American Record Guide). Preludes to Chopin has been streamed online nearly a million times, while More Preludes to Chopin was chosen as one of Spotify’s “Best Classical New Releases”. Hamilton has also made the first recording of John Casken’s Six Wooded Pieces (premiered by him at the Esplanade, Singapore, in 2019) on the CD Stolen Airs (“a terrific disc”, Fanfare).
Death and Transfiguration, Volume 1 of his traversal of the piano music of Franz Liszt, was featured in the Guardian’s “Best Classical New Releases”, was a UK Official Classical Chart top 5 recording, a Gramophone “Best Classical Album of 2022”, a “Recording of the Week” on BBC Radio 3, and a “Music Web International Recommended Recording”.
Hamilton’s discs have attracted especial attention for the originality of their performance style. For Dr Chang Tou Liang of the Singapore Straits Times his Chopin recordings offer “a new way of listening to Chopin”, while Ralph Locke (ArtsFuse) remarked: “This is real music-making, not subservient reciting from a sacred text. Hamilton’s Chopin could change your whole attitude toward the role of the performer in classical music.” His Liszt recordings have likewise been welcomed as “liberating and totally refreshing” by Andrew Clements (The Guardian) and as “masterly” by Jeremy Nicholas (Gramophone), while David McDade (Music Web International) commented: “Just as I was beginning to despair of ever hearing a Liszt that really set the heart racing, along comes Kenneth Hamilton”.
Hamilton is Head of the School of Music at Cardiff University in Wales, UK. He has been a visiting artist and guest professor at many institutions worldwide, including the Franz Liszt Academy in Hungary and the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, and, travel restrictions permitting, gives regular masterclasses in China and the Far East. His next CD releases will be an album of Romantic Handel, and Volume 3 of his Liszt series.