The music-lovers who gathered at St. Francis Auditorium on Thursday evening, Jan. 24, did not constitute an especially large audience, but they were treated to a concert that was super-sized in quality. The performer was the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, brought to town by the Santa Fe Concert Association, and his subject was Richard Wagner, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year. About a dozen piano pieces by Wagner are extant, and the fact that all of them are inconsequential had no impact on this recital, because those were not the works from which Lortie constructed his imaginative program. Instead, he drew from Wagner's operatic scores as massaged by other musicians into versions for solo piano.
Settings of this sort were quite the rage in the 19th century, at a time before recordings made operatic music available on demand and when the art of pianism soared to levels of previously unimagined virtuosity. While some piano formulations were crafted as simple reductions of what were conceived as scores for voices with orchestra -- these are usually called transcriptions -- others involved elaborate reworking of the original material into what were titled fantasies, reminiscences, or concert paraphrases. This recital presented Wagner as viewed through the prism of three of his contemporaries -- Franz Liszt, Hugo Wolf, and Joseph Rubinstein -- as well as by Lortie himself.
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