I first heard the 32-year-old German pianist Joseph Moog at a Chopin Society recital in November 2019 in Westminster Cathedral Hall, and it is an understatement to declare that I was swept away, not just by his wizardry but also by his musicianship – and a pianist who includes Fauré in their programme already has me on their side. That aside, it was Moog’s performance of Liszt’s B-minor Sonata that had me on the edge of my seat – it seemed that all the ley-lines of virtuosity and imagination were beaming the audience up into something outstanding.
This most recent CD, a Liszt programme titled ‘Between Heaven and Hell’, quickly followed, confirming Moog’s uncanny identification with Liszt’s polarisation between the demonic and the divine. I should add that a glance at Moog’s discography suggests how thoroughly grounded he is in the romantic repertoire – and I strongly recommend his Moskowski Concerto album.
The Liszt CD certainly lives up to its title as Moog steers the Sonata in B-minor between extremes of energy and meditative stillness. His formidable attention to detail sounds completely organic, and matters of phrasing and rubato add greatly to an intensely communicative approach that is both intuitive and deeply considered. He takes the fugue at what sounds like Allegro energico on steroids, but it makes sense in context, especially since the preceding slow section has built to a climax that simply takes your breath away. It demonstrates that Moog is more than a complete virtuoso; he also connects with the Lisztian ego as filtered through the piano, equally persuasive in the nuance as in the bravado of his rhetoric.
The two Légendes prove how thoroughly Moog is inside Liszt’s spiritual idiom. In St Francis’s sermon to the birds, Moog evokes their chirrupings superbly, and goes on to give a wonderful impression of both the saint and his feathered friends being made mutually wiser by the music. St Francis walking on the water is just as transformational, as Moog effortlessly conflates the elemental and the holy through his transcendent playing. Moog’s moody and magnificent account of the Dante Sonata and his ebullient way with the late Csárdás obstiné complete a programme that covers four decades of Liszt’s genius with impeccable brilliance and understanding.
Joseph Moog is playing at the Wigmore Hall on Friday March 20, 2020 for a recital including the Liszt B-minor Sonata, and, if this CD is anything to go by, it is unmissable.