While all the world is commemorating the centennial of the death of Franz Liszt, the local music establishment has been indifferent to the occasion. It remained for a compatriot of Liszt, Hungarian-born pianist Tamas Vasary, to pay suitable tribute to the master pianist-composer, not in one of the city’s important concert halls but in the pleasant small auditorium of Biola University in La Mirada on Sunday.
It was a major tribute performed in masterly fashion. Vasary is one of the few pianists who could nonchalantly sit down and toss off with exemplary ease and style the 16 pieces, some of them long and immensely difficult, comprising the original two volumes of Liszt’s “Annees de Pelerinage” (Years of Pilgrimage), depicting the sights and sounds of the composer’s wanderjahre in Switzerland and Italy.
Although of substantial reputation in the recording world, Vasary, 53, is little known here. His last local dates were in 1966.
The pianist is a man of rather slight build, but with no effort at all he can call up Horowitzian sonorities of overwhelming power. He can play as fast as anyone, and usually impeccably; only toward the end of an exhausting program did a few clinkers and a memory slip creep in. He can shake feathery cadenzas out of his sleeve without a second thought, and his singing tone is varied and affecting; he can be a poet as well as a conjurer.
He can be charming in such moments as “On the Lake Wallenstadt,” the “Pastorale,” “Au bord d’une source,” “Les Cloches de Geneve” and the like, soulfully penetrating in the three Sonnets on Petrarch, and hair-raising in the unrelenting virtuosity of “Orage” and “Apres une Lecture du Dante” (After a Reading of Dante), actually based on a poem by Victor Hugo.
And all the while that Vasary is performing technical marvels, he is carving a near-perfect likeness of the Liszt personality and musical style: the demonic abandon, the tender poetry, the daring harmonies that Wagner borrowed so freely, the visionary flights of imagination.
Vasary was recalled for three encores: a dazzling and deeply musical version of the “Rigoletto” paraphrase, a piece in waltz rhythm that might have been a transcription of Schubert, and the 15th Hungarian Rhapsody, the “Rakoczy March.” It was in the last that some accidents occurred, but in view of what had gone before they were inconsequential.