I have one complaint about this disc: it’s too short. Mr Bognár hails from Champaign, Illinois and studied with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The young pianist has performed in Europe, Russia, Japan, and the US and also maintains an active internet presence, where his series Living the Classical Life presents fascinating video interviews with performers including Yuja Wang and Stephen Hough.
This—his debut CD—couples, as the title playfully puts it, Franz and Franz; the pair might seem incongruous at first glance, but Schubert figured prominently in Liszt’s concertizing and work, and one might argue that Schubert’s piano music, more than others in his generation, established expressive terrain of Romanticism.
Bognár’s playing is Romantic through and through; sensitive rubato in the first two Schubert pieces demonstrates that there’s still much a performer can say with these pieces, and the electrifying but sure technique in Liszt’s arrangement of Paganini’s “La Chasse” (included among three Schubert song transcriptions: “Der Doppelganger,” “Aufenhalt,” and “Ständchen”) makes the music seem almost ridiculously easy.
Bognár indulges himself a bit with the Dante Sonata, Liszt’s enigmatic, new formal design masquerading as a fantasy—but the piece has a long tradition of being treated this way and it’s a marvelous closing for the program. More important, he takes full advantage of a fabulous range of tone color, which the recording engineers capture perfectly. (Carefully modulated bass-register sonorities in the “Doppelganger” arrangement mark another high point of his artistry.) The excellent Hamburg Steinway he plays seals the deal. Zsolt Bognár is a pianist I’ll keep my eyes and ears on.