I feel a bit chagrined that like many others I've overlooked John Browning, pigeonholing this estimable pianist in two small niches - the music of his friend Samuel Barber and the concertos of Prokofiev. Here we have a Liszt recital issued in 1986, the year that Browning turned 53; he died, not yet seventy, in 2003. The technique is accomplished, the interpretations direct and unfussy. As with other American virtuosos of that generation, the shadow of Horowitz lingers - Browning's B minor Sonata is propulsive, glittering, and extroverted. which makes it a thrill to listen to, especially if you don't want Horowitz's nervous mannerisms and artifice in phrasing. On the other hand, since Browning doesn't extend himself to make the sonata sound profound, his reading may come off as emotionally a bit shallow, although never to the point that he is merely sliding over the surface.
Horowitz's shadow lingers over the three Petrach sonnets for another reason, because of his incomparable interpretative skills in these improvisatory, songful works. I've never heard another pianist who sounded half as imaginative and spontaneous. Here Browning suffers by sounding a bit ordinary a la Van Cliburn when his instincts are too plain in poetic music. But I like Cliburn's Liszt on its own terms - I think of it as American Liszt, that is, plain-spoken - and I like Browning's for the same reason. The last thing on the program, the clattery, bombastic Dante Sonata, wasn't recorded by Horowitz, but there's a superb live account by Volodos on Sony that turns lead into gold. In a more sober vein there is also Andsnes on EMI, and for dazzling technique one turns to Lise de la Salle in her recent Liszt recital.Read more ›
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The major work on this album is clearly the Piano Sonata in Bm. I own four recordings of this piece, and this is the worst of the bunch. Right off the bat, there is a lack of ferocity in the Lento assai beginning and an as he plays through the 17 or so tempo changes, I can't help feel that I'm being shortchanged by the performance. Maybe this is because I am constantly comparing the performance to the benchmark performance by Martha Argerich (which is available on multiple recordings Martha Argerich Collection DG, Debut Recital DG, Greatest Pianists of the 20th Century II Philips).
If you want the Liszt Piano Sonata, buy the Argerich version. Browning's performance is forgettable. Argerich's performance is spectacular.