Schubert-Liszt Wanderer Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra – Teo Gheorghiu – RLPO

Hola a todos. Below is a superb performance I’ve enjoyed and thought I would bring to reader’s attention. As the article title says, it’s the Schubert-Liszt Wanderer Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra with pianist Teo Gheorghiu and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko who also conducted this piece.

A little bit of history about this piece:

The prolific composer, Franz Schubert (who died before he reached his 32nd cumpleaños/birthday: 31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) wrote a piece for piano called The Wanderer Fantasy. It’s an extremely difficult work for solo piano. I first heard it when one of my piano professors at the Conservatory of Music where I trained played it on her Faculty Recital.

Then later, Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886) took the original piece that Schubert had composed and he (Liszt) transcribed it for piano and orchestra, giving part of the piano writing to the orchestra, although the pianist still has quite a workout in the piano and orchestra version. Except for the tiny cadenza which forms the transition to the E Flat Major section of the first movement, Liszt adhered scrupulously to Schubert’s original work in creating his transcription.

It was also at the Conservatory that I first heard the Schubert-Liszt arrangement a year or so later. One of the finalists in the annual Student Soloist Competition played it with the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra. His interpretation was on the heavier side (more pedal) and he made it more of a “showy piece” compared to the performance here, although I enjoyed it.

I prefer the Liszt version — known as “the Schubert-Liszt” Wanderer Fantasy, which is described as a piano concertino.

Both the solo version and the transcription version are rarely performed. I think the solo version is rarely performed because of its difficulty. I’ve worked on the Schubert-Liszt from time-to-time over the years, but have never performed it. I’d like to perform it, but at this point in life I don’t suspect I will have that opportunity because concerto engagement are extremely rare to come by — some orchestras don’t really enjoy accompanying to begin with — unless one is an international concert artist and has an artist agent who can schedule concerto performances, then it’s much easier to perform concerti.

From my understanding, the concerto for a programme is chosen by the orchestra and what they would like to perform. The piano artist is chosen based on the artist that the orchestra would like to feature and what concerti s/he has in their repertoire. Most concert artists have a list of the standard concerti in their repertoire, much of which they learned early-on in their training and/or career at the urging of their piano professor(s).

Although in this performance below, maybe it’s just me but I sort of got the sense that the conductor, Vasily Petrenko, wasn’t that hot on doing this piece — and looked a bit bored conducting it at times — and I thought he seemed a bit cold to the piano soloist compared to other warm interactions between conductor and soloist (regardless of gender) that I’ve observed with other orchestras and conductors especially in Europe.

I’ve been waiting years for a recorded video performance of the Schubert-Liszt where the orchestra and pianist were of the same high caliber. This is the best recorded performance in video format that I’ve seen or heard. Other than the very limited camera shots — oddly viewers never get to see the full orchestra, including the principal/first chair cellist who has a solo in the slow movement — they do keep the camera on the keyboard, where it should be much of the time. I noticed that most of the first violinists within camera view are women, including the leader/concert master.

Too often these days, camera crews are obsessed with keeping the camera parked on the face of the conductor — and watching his every facial gesture (which we don’t need to see) and the sweat on his forehead and upper lip. Or, the camera is parked on the pianist’s face so viewers can watch/”study?” the pianist’s facial expressions, the quivering lips and mouth movements, his or her pained expressions while playing, the pianist’s eyes rolling back and gazing up at the ceiling, along with other needless theatrics. I call all that play-acting. It’s unnecessary. Personally, I can see enough of a pianist’s face from their profile view (camera facing the keyboard as in this performance). Theatrics turn me off.

I found it interesting that Vladimir Horowitz said about himself “I’m probably not too interesting to watch.” He elaborated on that by saying that you wouldn’t see him playing with quivering lips or his eyes rolling up towards the ceiling and gazing at that for awhile. Artur Rubinstein didn’t do any of that nonsense either. From what I’ve seen, that generation of pianists didn’t engage in theatrics. Neither does the pianist, Teo Gheorghiu, in this performance. But these days, there’s no shortage of pianists who seem to have to facially “act” out their playing. Some pianists seem to go out of their way to make the piece they’re playing look very difficult, which is the opposite of how one is trained. One is trained to make one’s playing looking effortless, even with the most difficult of pieces. And all of these (pained) theatrics that pianists and other artists engage in contradict that approach in training. Has no one ever thought of that?

I was pleased to see the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra programme this piece. And Teo Gheorghiu is superb, as is the Orchestra. Very clean playing and with a very light touch; not at all over-pedaled. Sparkling runs. Their Steinway has a brilliant treble register. It must be a Homburg Steinway (as opposed to a New York Steinway). Teo’s interpretation is refreshing to hear and more on the “chamber music,” side if you know what I mean by that. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Schubert-Liszt Wanderer Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
Teo Gheorghiu, piano
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko, conductor

2 comments on “Schubert-Liszt Wanderer Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra – Teo Gheorghiu – RLPO

  1. David in Breuckelen

    Nice! Think Ive heard the original Schubert version on the radio but think I like this one better. Thanks for posting it……:-)

  2. D8

    Ah, some music that I would have never found on my own. Thank you. BTW, enjoyed the history of it.

Fin. The End.