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Keyboard Thursday album review: Nothing exceeds like Christopher O'Riley's Liszt excess

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The Spring 2013 Over-the-Top Piano Album Award goes to National Public Radio host, pianist and inveterate arranger Christopher O’Riley and his riotous pile of transcriptions released by Oxingale Records as O’Riley’s Liszt.

lisztO’Riley is probably best known south of the border for his transcriptions of Radiohead songs, which he propagated by playing them on his radio show, From the Top. He’s been crossing over to and from pop to classical for most of his life, but, in case this sets up any doubts, he is a very serious pianist.

He pours every ounce of his prodigious technique into five transcriptions and fantasies by Franz Liszt, the crown jewel being five movements of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. And O’Riley can’t resist adding coloured sprinkles on top, in the form of his own adjustments and embellishments.

The effect is sometimes overwhelming, always awe-inspiring. Is all this work really being done by 10 fingers?

A lot of his piano sound is big and percussive, but O’Riley is also capable of an elegant sweetness. But this is still for the listener who wants their ear-hairs to be provoked, not just teased.

The other Liszt reimaginings on the album are the Don Juan Fantasy, Schumann”s Frülingsnacht, the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Schubert’s Frülingsglaube.

There is a Blu-Ray complement of music videos.

Check it all out here. This is the fourth movement of the Symphonie Fantastique:

John Terauds


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