Music Notes: Hyperion 99-Disc Complete Liszt Box Set

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.

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8 replies
  1. Kirk says:

    In a recent article in The Guardian, Steven Hough said “…Liszt gave us a vast jumble of works ranging from the masterpiece of formal perfection, the B minor Sonata, to pieces of utter dross and banality.” This from a pianist who is favorably disposed to this music. Much of this box will unfortunately fall into the latter category, but it is an impressive project.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      Yes, that’s entirely possible. I don’t know enough of Liszt’s music, and perhaps that’s why much of it hasn’t been recorded. I noticed that there are maybe a dozen discs or more of transcriptions; I don’t know the context, but those are probably not the most interesting works.

      Reply
      • John in AB says:

        Well, oddly enough, the transcriptions can be enormous fun to listen to if you know the original. For unknown originals, not so much.

        Reply
        • kirk says:

          To be fair, I’m a big fan of Schubert’s lieder, and I see that there are what seems to be nine discs of transcriptions of those works. I’d be interested to hear them.

          Reply
  2. Gary in Ottawa says:

    Whew! Good thing I’m not into Liszt. Otherwise, I’d be reeled in by yet another Box Set :o

    Reply
  3. C. Paul Barreira says:

    That Hyperion can decide to take the trouble of these enormous projects is worthy only of applause. The Schubert lieder set, at least the rec’ds that I have purchased beginning with the very first disc, is truly amazing. Liszt’s transcriptions vary, as one would expect, in quality yet warrant investigation by music lovers. I never cease to wonder at the musical achievements of my contemporaries (late ’50s) and their elders as well as the fabulous talents of more tender years. That essential continuity is most encouraging. And Hyperion has been a significant contributor to that continuing sense of wonder and enjoyment and intellectual stimulation.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      Yes, I very much appreciate the risks that Hyperion takes with the many large projects such as this. Now that the Schubert and Liszt are finished, they don’t have any big ones underway, but do have a couple of series that they are publishing, such as the Romantic Piano Concertos series, over 50 volumes so far with around 100 projected.

      Reply

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