By the 1860s, Liszt had retired from the concert platform, resigned his post at Weimar and spent years in Rome with Princess Wittgenstein trying unsuccessfully to convince the Vatican to annul her marriage. Laid low by the deaths of two of his adult children, taking minor orders seemed another stunning career move for one who’s reputation as mad, bad and dangerous to know followed him into old-age; “Mephistopheles disguised as an Abbé”, “his black silk cassock fluttering ironically behind him.”

His aristocratic friend and patron Cardinal Hohenlohe provided him with an apartment in the Villa D’Este at Tivoli, some four hours by carriage from Rome. Liszt would treat it as his bolthole for the rest of his life, its magnificent gardens a sanctuary of placid beauty and inspiration for the three masterpieces at the centre of his third collection of “poetic fragments” from his Years of Pilgrimage, not to be published until 1883.

According to Sacheverell Sitwell – for three whole days, in September 1877, he spent every hour of sunlight and as much of night as was made visible by the moon in admiration of the cypresses. The resulting two Threnodies are profoundly beautiful works that transport one to that moonlit scene with the dark shapes gently swaying to the breeze. The familiar Les Jeux d’Eaux à la Villa d’Este is a startling example of Liszt’s prescience, a blueprint for many watery pieces of the following century – a glittering fantasy amongst its dark austere companions, the set bookended by the evocative if pious Angelus and the declamatory Sursum corda.

The recital opens with some of his last works, the strange experimental Bagatelle sans tonalité and Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort (Sleepless! Question and answer), the Fourth Mephisto Waltz, his premonition of Wagner’s death in Venice La Lugubre Gondola II and the lovely balm to the soul of Wiegenlied and En Rêve.

Tiberghien’s playing is spellbinding, his pearly touch and colouristic flair exploits all the possibilities available from a superbly prepared instrument with a huge dynamic range. He keeps much in reserve, never playing to the gallery, the big outbursts are startling but never coarse – an intimate communion, a disc for late night contemplation.

Extraordinary translucence and awareness of sonority, Les Jeux d’Eaux is breathtakingly beautiful. This is a rather special disc, an essential for piano devotees and will linger in the mind like the final chord of Sursum corda – Tiberghien lets the marvellous Yamaha ring out for some 50 seconds.


Composer: Liszt
Composition: Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Année et al
Performer: Cédric Tiberghien p
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA68202