Hastings has always had tornado-like technique and a virile tone, but in listening to the recordings, I was struck by the expressive nuance he pulls from music that others treat as vehicles for grandstanding. The Liszt CD is particularly valuable because these splendid fantasias wrought from operas by Verdi, Donizetti and Wagner and songs by Schumann, Schubert and others are more imaginative and profound than many realize. In the "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Islode," Liszt captures the full sweep of Wagner's passion, and Hastings, in turn, fervidly translates the vision without overheating. In the songs, Hastings spins long, graceful melodic lines.
–Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
The second disc from Joel Hastings, titled Liszt Transcending, is a superbly performed all-Liszt collection of twelve transcriptions, paraphrases and arrangements of works by eight composers. Recorded live, the well balanced disc contains some minor noise on four of the tracks but nothing too obtrusive and audience applause is included at the end of track 11. I found the liner notes interesting to read, providing much essential information.
The opening score is the Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto where Joel Hastings gradually and expertly builds up intensity and weight. At 4:38 I found the power and drama that he generates especially impressive. The Canadian soloist in the arrangement of Schumann’s Widmung provides considerable refinement and the five Schubert scores Das Wandern, Der Müller und der Bach, Die Forelle, Ständchen and Erlkönig are joyously interpreted with delicacy and good humour.
The appealing arrangements of Auf Flügeln des Gesanges by Mendelssohn is given a performance of tenderness with an impressive lightness of touch and the arrangement of Reminiscences of Lucia di Lammermoor effectively contrasts strength and vitality with tenderness. I love the way he accelerates the tempo superbly and seamlessly from 5:16-6:07. Liszt’s arrangement of Wagner’s mighty Isolde's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is powerfully performed with an abundance of high drama.
The arrangement of the Sarabande and Chaconne from Handel’s Almira is robust and lyrical played in a highly Romantic style and in the final score on the disc, Giovanni Sgambati’s transcription of the Melodie from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the soloist provides an unhurried reading of compelling tranquillity.
This is high calibre playing from Joel Hastings a pianist who is worthy of considerable attention. [His] releases deserve a place in any collection of instrumental music.
–Michael Cookson, Musicweb International
Joel Hastings’ all-Liszt recital was absolutely stunning from the first note to the last. Hastings is a superhuman virtuoso with a massive sound and monumental technique. Hastings has extraordinary charisma that commands complete attention. But best of all, Hastings is a real musician, and his musicality makes an audience pay attention not to him but to the music he's playing....But, under Hastings's hands, it all worked. His performance of Liszt's more-or-less straight transcription of Wagner's Liebestod was especially transcendent. Through his control of balances and dynamics, through his command of tone color and pedaling, and especially through his imaginative, emotional, and even spiritual feel for the soul of the music, Hastings's performance achieved a kind of beatific rapture. If he can make glorious music with a fraudulent poetaster like Liszt, imagine how he will fare with the true poet of the piano.
–James Leonard, The Ann Arbor Observer
This new Liszt recital offers some wonderful pianism by this sterling artist. Transcriptions have been around since the time of J.S. Bach; nevertheless, Franz Liszt was perhaps the greatest of all transcribers for the concert piano. Alone, Liszt transcribed over 200 songs ‘lieder’ of Franz Schubert; moreover, Liszt even transcribed all nine symphonies of Beethoven for the instrument.
Hastings’ recital clearly is a statement about the virtuoso in performance. Leopold Godowsky, international concert pianist/composer/transcriber once said, “Virtuoso playing is not simply playing fast and loud; rather, virtuoso playing requires the highest skills in phrasing and nuance in not only playing the notes but also giving warmth and sensitivity to the musical line.” Hastings certainly follows this tradition.
The operatic compositions are full of wonderful ‘singing’ or ‘cantabile’ playing. This is most evident in the Rigoletto, Lucia and Tristan excerpts. There is also much bravura and extremely brilliant playing as well. The Schumann and Mendelssohn ‘lieder’ are subtle, haunting and have great warmth and charm. Likewise, the same comments apply to the Handel and Gluck. The Schubert ‘lieder’ show Hastings’ art in programming the piano’s palate of tonal colors. ‘Wandering,’ ‘The Miller and the Brook,” “The Trout,” and “The Erl King” are excellent examples.
Needless to say, this is a must for any pianist/musician and aficionado who enjoys Liszt as well as beautiful playing for its own sake.
–Dennis Ferrara, From the Listening Room