Music Notes: Hyperion 99-Disc Complete Liszt Box Set

12/15/2011

Hyperion Records has released a 99-disc box set of the long-running series they have been publishing of all of Franz Liszt’s piano music. Recorded by Leslie Howard, with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra for the concertos, this series has been a labor of love for some 25 years (the first disc was recorded in 1985, and was an early digital recording). Hyperion claims that it holds the Guinness world record for the world’s largest recording series by a solo artist; I don’t know of any that even come close.

Liszt’s music is an acquired taste; I’ve been listening to bits and pieces from this set since I got it nearly a year ago, and while some of the music is too over-the-top for my taste, much of it is very interesting. It contains 7,266 minutes of music, enough to keep anyone busy for a very long time. Discovering an oeuvre like this is a long-term process, and having all the music available in one set makes it possible to flip around from period to period to hear how Liszt grew.

A large number of these discs are transcriptions: of music from operas, of songs by Franz Schubert (11 hours’ worth), of Beethoven’s symphonies (masterful transcriptions indeed). The one set of works that has held me spellbound is the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, a series of “mystical” keyboard works. This set is full of surprises, and I have barely scratched the surface so far.

It’s currently listed at €186 at Amazon FR, £228 at Amazon UK, and $302 at Amazon.com, with marketplace sellers offering it for less. Hyperion – one of my sponsors – also has it available for download, in MP3, FLAC and Apple Lossless formats, with impeccable metadata, and full notes embedded in each track. They sell it for £200, but you get an immediate 25% “bulk buy” discount, making it £150. And you don’t have to rip the CDs.