But who'd have thought it could work even when the music he's playing was by Liszt? Fortunately the whole recital was made up of Liszt's arrangements, fantasies, paraphrases, potpourris, and what-have-yous of other composers' works. At least in the case of operas by Handel and Wagner and songs by Schumann and Schubert, the originals are first rate, and, as if in acknowledgment, Liszt stays pretty close to them. Of course, in the case of operas by Donizetti, Tchaikovsky, and, to a lesser extent, Verdi, the originals are less than first-rate and less adaptable to the piano.
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.
On Friday and Sunday, December 9 and 11, Joel Hastings will be playing Chopin's Etudes at First Baptist Church. If he can make glorious music with a fraudulent poetaster like Liszt, imagine how he will fare with the true poet of the piano.
[Review published December 2005]