Sophia Agranovich | Franz Liszt - Bicentennial Tribute

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Franz Liszt - Bicentennial Tribute

by Sophia Agranovich

"...Interpretation that dares to be different. Beauty has tamed the beast… Magnificent shading and superior musicianship…” Alan Becker – American Record Guide
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Trois Etudes De Concert, S. 144: "Un Sospiro"
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6:29 $1.99
2. 6 Etudes, Execution Transcendante Apres Paganini, S. 141: "La Campanella" (Arranged By F. Busoni)
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5:26 $1.99
3. Rhapsodie Espagnole, S. 254 (Folies D’espagne Et Jota Aragonese)
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14:47 $2.99
4. Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: I. Lento Assai, Allegro Energico, Grandioso, Recitativo
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13:52 $2.99
5. Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: II. Andante Sostenuto, Quasi Adagio
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6. Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: III. Allegro Energico
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2:33 $1.99
7. Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: IV. Piu Mosso, Stretta Quasi Presto, Presto
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8. Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: V. Andante Sostenuto, Allegro Moderato, Lento Assai
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3:54 $1.99
Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.

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For Artist's information, visit WWW.SOPHIAGRANOVICH.COM.

Review in Fanfare Nov-Dec 2012: Peter Burwasser

It might seem unnecessary, perhaps even absurd, to have this new release of music that has been performed by a seemingly endless stream of the great virtuosos of piano history. Remarkably, Sophia Agranovich manages to present these extremely familiar works with a distinct profile. In general, her style is clearly textured, measured in tempo, and rhythmically playful without being mannered. Her touch is rather dry, which accounts for the cleanliness of her sound. Agranovich, a Ukrainian native who completed her formal education at Juilliard, certainly does not try to blow away her listeners with scintillating technique, and indeed, her lurching chords in the opening pages of the Sonata gave me pause. But she travels across Liszt’s vast world with poise and determination, and throws out a sure sense of grandeur and theater with nary a trace of pomposity and bombast, a refreshing way with this booby-trapped score. In all honesty, Agranovich will not replace my favorite performers in any of this music, which includes Egon Petri, Grigori Ginzberg, and Marc-Andre Hamelin, just to name a few. And I have long admired the wonderful combination of lush poetry and elegance that Claudio Arrau brought to the Sonata. But her playing is honestly emotive and sufficiently agile, and it held up well in repeated hearings. A nervy release, in some ways, but ultimately a successful one. Peter Burwasser
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Review in Fanfare Nov-Dec 2012: Jerry Dubins

It seems longer than eight months ago since I interviewed Sophia Agranovich for the magazine, in Fanfare 35:4. She was still relatively new to me then, but after reviewing her CD of works by Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Scriabin one issue prior, I knew she was an artist of note. That is demonstrated again here in her bicentennial Liszt tribute, which arrives a little late—Liszt was born in 1811—but which was in fact recorded in 2011.
The main business of the program is, of course, Liszt’s sprawling B-Minor Sonata, a work that has stood as a dare to pianists since it was written. But Agranovich begins with three appetizers to the main course. The poignant, ever-popular Un Sospiro is the third of three concert etudes Liszt composed between 1845 and 1849. All three of them, as their collective title indicates, were written to be presentable in concert performance, but they were also designed as specific technique-building exercises. Un Sospiro, the most famous of the three numbers, is a case study in hand crossing and in alternating melody and accompanying arpeggio figuration between right and left hands. To clarify his intentions, Liszt wrote much of the piece out on three staves. When played as expertly as it is here by Agranovich, the music sounds absolutely seamless, which, of course, is the point. Her performance may not be as limpid as Marc-André Hamelin’s 1996 recording for Hyperion, or as glittering as Cliburn’s mid-1970s RCA version, but Agranovich brings out the music’s wistfulness in a way that’s quite touching.
Liszt’s La Campanella, third in the set of the composer’s six Transcendental Etudes after Paganini, apparently wasn’t virtuosic enough for Ferruccio Busoni, so, according to Agranovich’s program note, the Italian pianist/composer decided to goose it up (my phrase, not hers). In truth, Busoni’s edition is twice removed from the original source, Liszt having arranged the piece for solo piano from the last movement of Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto. The five-and-a-half-minute piece is a study in hopping and jumping great distances over the keyboard and hopefully not missing the mark. Agranovich doesn’t, and proves she can hop and jump with the best of them.
It wasn’t until 1863, almost two decades after Liszt’s tour of Spain and Portugal, that he sat down to compose his Rhapsodie espagnole, a kind of double variations work beginning with a passacaglia on the well-known La Folia theme followed by variations based on a Jota Aragonesa, a traditional Spanish dance, and finally combining the two. As with much of Liszt’s solo piano music, the piece is treacherously difficult. In this case, the pianist must navigate a course of so-called “blind octaves,” a technique in which rapid alternation of octaves between the hands produces the aural illusion of scales being played in triple octaves. In Volume 49 of his complete Liszt survey, Leslie Howard plays the piece perhaps with a bit more technical panache than Agranovich, but her reading feels more attuned to the music’s Spanish spirit and flavor.
We come finally to Liszt’s B-Minor Sonata, a performance of which the composer himself anecdotally put Brahms to sleep. It’s hard to fathom anyone dozing off during such a din, but if the story is true, Brahms may have been the luckiest person in the room. Liszt’s grand sonata has, over time, become a revered repertoire masterpiece that one dare not question for fear of being ostracized by the intelligentsia. But is the work truly a towering pillar or a towering babble? Personally, I find its logic hard to follow and few pianists have been able to persuade me either of its structural soundness or musical profundity.
Agreed, it’s an amazing display of Liszt’s keyboard wizardry, demanding of the player’s exhaustive technical resources and staying power, which Agranovich brings to her performance in abundance. But if, in the end, my impression is of threads lost and fabric unraveled I’m more inclined to fault Liszt than Agranovich. Only three performances of the Sonata have managed to convince me of its efficacy: Claudio Arrau’s 1970 recording for Philips, Alfred Brendel’s 1991 recording, also for Philips, and Clifford Curzon’s 1963 recording for Decca. What distinguishes these three performances for me is that each seems to take the technical fireworks as a given and focuses instead on building a cogent, coherent argument for the music’s large-scale, formal structure.
Agranovich’s reading of the Sonata is a masterly and brilliant display of pianistic virtuosity—I can’t recall hearing any better—and Armonioso’s recording captures her Steinway piano in New York’s Sean Swinney Studios with lifelike presence. If it’s a Liszt Sonata of grand sweep and rhapsodic romantic gesture you crave, Agranovich can be counted on to deliver the goods. Jerry Dubins


Review in Fanfare Nov-Dec 2012: Maria Nockin

Franz Liszt was the nineteenth century equivalent of a contemporary rock star. When he was a young pianist just starting out, fifty copies of his engraved image were sold on the first day they went on sale. Women were known to lose their normal inhibitions and modesty when he appeared. At that time he said that he owned nothing but his ten fingers and his good name. That, musician genius and regular facial features, were all he needed to conquer the whole of Europe. Since he could fill large halls on his own, he began the tradition of giving solo recitals with no other artist on the program and he positioned the piano on stage so that at least half the audience could see his hands as he played. That was very important for pieces like La Campanella (The Little Bell) which requires spectacular hand movements. In all probability, Liszt did not attach the name Un Sospiro (A Sigh) to his piece. He usually referred to his compositions simply by their keys, but he did not ask that the designation be removed, either. Actually, it is the last of the composer's Three Concert Studies in D-flat. As a study, it requires pianists to cross their hands numerous times and perform intricate finger work. When the right hand plays the melody, the left hand plays the harmony and vice versa. Eventually the pianist crosses one hand over the other for a short time in order to continue the increasingly dramatic melody. Agranovich is a magnificent technician and she plays this difficult piece with seeming ease. Her trills are equally even no matter what pair of fingers are required, too. Best of all, she has the temperament to express the emotional impact of the work and sufficient physical strength to play a powerful fortissimo when it is called for.
The next piece, the more familiar La Campanella, is more delicate but just as difficult to play well because the pianist's hands have to jump to various places on the keyboard while making light and bell-like sounds. Agranovich gives us energy and tonal beauty in this 1838 version of a tune originally used by Paganini in his second violin concerto. Liszt wrote the Rhapsody Espagnole for piano in 1863, basing it on music he heard on a tour of Spain and Portugal. It's rapid-fire chords and octaves do not faze Agranovich in the least. The B Minor Sonata is unquestionably one of Liszt's true masterpieces. A complex work, Agranovich uses its power to showcase her virtuosity. Liszt completed the sonata in 1853, at a time when he had given up his former life as a touring artist. He was making his home in Weimar where he could compose in comfortable circumstances and only perform when he wanted to. He dedicated the sonata to Robert Schumann in return for the latter having dedicated his Fantasie in C to him. It is one of the few Liszt works that has no program whatsoever. There are, of course, other recordings to be compared with Agranovich's playing of these selections. Van Cliburn recorded Un Sospiro and the sonata for RCA. His playing is most impressive and his understanding of Liszt's music is legendary. Although he is stronger and plays with more power, Agranovich can hold her own when it comes to agility, passion, and romantic interpretation. Maurizio Pollini recorded the sonata in 1990, but his rendition lacks much of the poetry that is integral to Liszt's music. His interpretation seems perfunctory to me, and the sound on the disc is flat and one-dimensional. Jorge Bolet includes La Campanella on his 1995 Decca Recording and he plays it crisply but without the white-hot passion of Agranovich. She gets fine variations of tone from her Steinway and the clear sound on her Armonioso recording gives the listener the impression of a concert setting.
Fanfare: Maria Nockin
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LISZT Un Sospiro. La Campanella. Rhapsodie Espagnole. Sonata in b • Sophia Agranovich (pn) ARMONIOSO (60:02)

It seems longer than eight months ago since I interviewed Sophia Agranovich for the magazine, in Fanfare 35:4. She was still relatively new to me then, but after reviewing her CD of works by Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Scriabin one issue prior, I knew she was an artist of note. That is demonstrated again here in her bicentennial Liszt tribute, which arrives a little late—Liszt was born in 1811—but which was in fact recorded in 2011.
The main business of the program is, of course, Liszt’s sprawling B-Minor Sonata, a work that has stood as a dare to pianists since it was written. But Agranovich begins with three appetizers to the main course. The poignant, ever-popular Un Sospiro is the third of three concert etudes Liszt composed between 1845 and 1849. All three of them, as their collective title indicates, were written to be presentable in concert performance, but they were also designed as specific technique-building exercises. Un Sospiro, the most famous of the three numbers, is a case study in hand crossing and in alternating melody and accompanying arpeggio figuration between right and left hands. To clarify his intentions, Liszt wrote much of the piece out on three staves. When played as expertly as it is here by Agranovich, the music sounds absolutely seamless, which, of course, is the point. Her performance may not be as limpid as Marc-André Hamelin’s 1996 recording for Hyperion, or as glittering as Cliburn’s mid-1970s RCA version, but Agranovich brings out the music’s wistfulness in a way that’s quite touching.
Liszt’s La Campanella, third in the set of the composer’s six Transcendental Etudes after Paganini, apparently wasn’t virtuosic enough for Ferruccio Busoni, so, according to Agranovich’s program note, the Italian pianist/composer decided to goose it up (my phrase, not hers). In truth, Busoni’s edition is twice removed from the original source, Liszt having arranged the piece for solo piano from the last movement of Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto. The five-and-a-half-minute piece is a study in hopping and jumping great distances over the keyboard and hopefully not missing the mark. Agranovich doesn’t, and proves she can hop and jump with the best of them.
It wasn’t until 1863, almost two decades after Liszt’s tour of Spain and Portugal, that he sat down to compose his Rhapsodie espagnole, a kind of double variations work beginning with a passacaglia on the well-known La Folia theme followed by variations based on a Jota Aragonesa, a traditional Spanish dance, and finally combining the two. As with much of Liszt’s solo piano music, the piece is treacherously difficult. In this case, the pianist must navigate a course of so-called “blind octaves,” a technique in which rapid alternation of octaves between the hands produces the aural illusion of scales being played in triple octaves. In Volume 49 of his complete Liszt survey, Leslie Howard plays the piece perhaps with a bit more technical panache than Agranovich, but her reading feels more attuned to the music’s Spanish spirit and flavor.
We come finally to Liszt’s B-Minor Sonata, a performance of which the composer himself anecdotally put Brahms to sleep. It’s hard to fathom anyone dozing off during such a din, but if the story is true, Brahms may have been the luckiest person in the room. Liszt’s grand sonata has, over time, become a revered repertoire masterpiece that one dare not question for fear of being ostracized by the intelligentsia. But is the work truly a towering pillar or a towering babble? Personally, I find its logic hard to follow and few pianists have been able to persuade me either of its structural soundness or musical profundity.
Agreed, it’s an amazing display of Liszt’s keyboard wizardry, demanding of the player’s exhaustive technical resources and staying power, which Agranovich brings to her performance in abundance. But if, in the end, my impression is of threads lost and fabric unraveled I’m more inclined to fault Liszt than Agranovich. Only three performances of the Sonata have managed to convince me of its efficacy: Claudio Arrau’s 1970 recording for Philips, Alfred Brendel’s 1991 recording, also for Philips, and Clifford Curzon’s 1963 recording for Decca. What distinguishes these three performances for me is that each seems to take the technical fireworks as a given and focuses instead on building a cogent, coherent argument for the music’s large-scale, formal structure.
Agranovich’s reading of the Sonata is a masterly and brilliant display of pianistic virtuosity—I can’t recall hearing any better—and Armonioso’s recording captures her Steinway piano in New York’s Sean Swinney Studios with lifelike presence. If it’s a Liszt Sonata of grand sweep and rhapsodic romantic gesture you crave, Agranovich can be counted on to deliver the goods.
Fanfare: Jerry Dubins
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From CD notes written by Sophia Agranovich (@2012 Sophia Agranovich):

Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 - July 31, 1886) was one of the boldest and most influential innovators of European Romanticism. He was not only the greatest piano virtuoso of his era—and possibly of all time—but a notable pedagogue who spawned a generation a famed pianists, a conductor, writer, figurehead of the ‘Neudeutsche Schule’ (‘New German School’) and prominent composer whose work foreshadowed 20th-century ideas and trends. Liszt experimented with thematic transformation, reformed large-scale structures, unified multi-movement works, changed the traditional sonata form and invented the symphonic poem. Austere and impressionistic, his later works are rich with independent contrapuntal strands and advanced chromaticism, inspiring atonal music.
Most of Liszt’s works are programmatic and their poetical plan is often expressed in a description, title or epigraph. The piano works are central in Liszt’s legacy. He knew how to exploit the technical and artistic possibilities of the piano to their limits. “It has been my ‘I’, my language, my life! It is the custodian of all that moved my soul in the passionate days of my youth; to it I entrust all my thoughts, my day-dreams, my sufferings and joys.’’ As a ‘wunderkind’, he won over European capitals with his temperamental and poetic performances, but later, longing for solitude, the world-renowned pianist increasingly turned towards composition, yet continued to perform until two weeks before his death. Liszt composed some of the most difficult piano music ever written and had an extraordinarily broad repertory. He invented the modern piano recital, and enhanced piano literature with innumerable transcriptions, arrangements, variations, paraphrases, fantasies on the themes of operas, symphonies, songs of great composers and, of course, his own ingenious works.
The controversy among historians and musicians regarding Liszt’s compositions, however, continues to this day. Detractors accuse him of superficial glitter while proponents—such as pianist Alfred Brendel—argue that any perceived vulgarity is a reflection of the interpretation and character of the performer rather than of the composition itself. Without an appreciable understanding of Liszt, the man, his orchestral coloring and sound range—characteristic of many of his piano compositions—can appear to be little more than virtuosic effects. In his book ‘The Man Liszt’, Ernest Newman refers to his life as “the tragi-comedy of a soul divided against itself.” True, Liszt's personality was a contradictory combination of romantic abstraction and other-worldliness with showmanship and elegant manners: ‘half Zigeuner and half Franciscan’, in Liszt’s own description, or ‘Mephistopheles disguised as an Abbe’ as said Gregorovius, he was constantly soul-searching. Derek Watson in his book ‘Liszt’ writes: “Liszt’s avowed motto was ‘Caritas’… He believed that art is the centre of the soul’s aspiration to the divine.” A generous benefactor to other musicians, and known for his broadmindedness and respect towards different nations and religions, Liszt’s noble and somewhat enigmatic nature is key to understanding his music.

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Un sospiro (‘A sigh’), 1848, is the third of Liszt’s Trois études de concert that were dedicatied to Liszt's uncle, Eduard Liszt (1817–1879), the youngest son of Liszt's grandfather and the stepbrother of his own father. Eduard handled Liszt's business affairs for over thirty years. This étude requires crossing hands in complex patterns to be played very rapidly. It consists of a flowing background superimposed by a melody written in the third staff. Both melody and accompaniment are alternating between hands and transition should be seamless. The melody is dramatically dynamic and Impressionistic in nature.


La Campanella (‘Little bells’), 1851, was originally the theme of the last movement of the second violin concerto by Italian violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840). When Liszt heard him perform in Paris in 1831, he was determined to become the 'Paganini of the Piano'. Seven years later, Liszt completed his own arrangements of six original compositions by Paganini into spectacular and elegant etudes for piano, La Campanella third among them. A study in staccato leaps spanning four octaves, it requires both power and delicate finger work. A subsequent version by Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) is even more virtuosic.


Rhapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody), 1863, was inspired by Liszt's travels through Spain and Portugal in 1845. It opens with a long cadenza, which sets the mood for the ensuing variations. The first section is a passacaglia on La Folia, which appears already in an embellished form, but retaining the typical sarabande rhythm. The variations transform this theme with terse dotted rhythms, chromatic triplets, and sweeping sixteenth notes and chords through several octaves. Following the passacaglia is the brilliant Jota aragonesa - a traditional Spanish dance originated in Aragon. The section begins with a simple and charming melody appearing over an imitation of a drone bass, and grows into variations on both La Folia and Jota Aragonesa in exciting virtuosic display. This piece is fiendishly difficult technically and captivating in its beauty.



Sonata in B minor (1853-1854), dedicated to Robert Schumann, is a masterpiece of 19th-century piano literature, and one of the greatest and most virtuosic piano compositions ever written. It evokes associations with a whole life span - ‘from cradle to grave’. A study by Tibor Szász (1985) suggests the possible presence of a program in the Sonata based on biblical texts, including the story of the Garden of Eden in particular. It is more widely believed, however, that the piece reflects the Faust legend—suggesting Faustian struggle and demonic possession.

Originally it was influenced by Franz Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, which Liszt admired and arranged for piano and orchestra. Schubert also used a limited number of musical elements to create a four movement work with a fugato 4th movement. In 1851 Liszt experimented with a non-programmatic ‘four-movements-in-one’ form in a piano solo work ‘Grosses Konzertsolo’ (1849). Published in 1856 as a ‘Concerto pathétique‘ for two pianos, it was thematically related to both the Sonata and the later Faust Symphony.

Liszt’s Sonata consists of five motivic units that undergo transformations that depend on the musical context, and which are interlaced into a grand musical architecture with roughly four connected movements. Here Liszt synthesizes transformation of themes with double-function form in conjunction with chromatic harmony, which completely alters the concept of sonata construction. The Sonata in its grandiose intellectual conception has a transcendental emotional impact.

Sophia Agranovich
@ 2012 Sophia Agranovich



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