O’Riley’s Liszt

File Under Best CDs of 2013

O’Riley’s Liszt

Christopher O’Riley, piano


During the past decade, Christopher O’Riley has been quite busy, hosting From the Top, concertizing, and recording his adaptations of pop songs by Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith.  But he hasn’t released an all-classical CD since a Scriabin disc in 2004. That is, until 2013, when his two-CD recording of music by that barnstormer of barnstormers and finger-buster of finger-busters, Franz Liszt, saw the light of day.

When it comes to Liszt’s solo piano music I will admit to something of a blind spot. But O’Riley has made me a convert. His sense of the “long line” keeps the extravagances of this music in service to the pieces’ overall structures. Moreover, the tremendously nuanced dynamic shadings and seemingly effortless virtuosity that are consistently on display are most impressive.

The connection between Liszt and O’Riley as arrangers is made clear by the program’s inclusion of transcriptions of Wagner, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Berlioz. But I suspect that there’s more than this affinity that brings Liszt into O’Riley’s wheelhouse at present. After all, he’s been away from recording classical music for awhile and instead has been serving as a mentor to one prodigy after another. What better way to show he’s still “got it” as a straight up classical virtuoso? This recording not only handily demonstrates that, but it whets one’s appetite for what surprises he may next have in store for us.