Precipitando - Alban Berg / Leoš Janáček / Franz Liszt

Dénes Várjon


After important contributions to Heinz Holliger’s “Romancendres” and acclaimed performance, with Carolin Widmann, of Schumann’s Violin Sonatas, here is the first New Series solo recording from Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon. It is a recital that draws the listener in from the first moments – beginning with the dark, brooding language of Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata op. 1, shaped in the shadow of Schoenberg, and continuing into the nebulous regions of Janáček’s impressionistic and near-contemporaneous “In the mists”, finally emerging into the clear light of Liszt’s immense – and immensely-influential – B-minor Sonata.

Wenn ein Komponist sein Opus 1 veröffentlicht, gibt er damit seine Visitenkarte ab. Alban Bergs Sonate op. 1 für Klavier ist allerdings nicht lediglich eine individuelle Visitenkarte, es ist auch eine kollektive der Musik des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Der Schüler Arnold Schönbergs schrieb sein Opus 1 auf der Wende zur Atonalität, er hinterließ es als Fragment, das selbstbewusst sein Existenzrecht behauptet, und er schrieb es im Bewusstsein der Tradition und zugleich gegen sie: alles Merkmale, die man zu den Tendenzen der Zeit zählen kann. In der erweiterten Tonart h-Moll aber knüpft die Sonate auch an eines der bedeutendsten Werke des Klaviergenres des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts an: Franz Liszts monumentale h-Moll-Sonate, ebenso einsätzig, ebenso komplex, wenngleich weit extensiver in ihren Proportionen. Dénes Várjon, der Schüler von György Kurtág und András Schiff, verbindet die beiden Werke auf seiner Solo-Einspielung mit einer Komposition, die sich gegenüber den überbordenden Werken von Liszt und Berg geradezu durch Sparsamkeit auszeichnet und wie ein Reflex auf die eindrucksvolle Handschrift Claude Debussys wirkt. Leoš Janáčeks vierteiliger Zyklus „Im Nebel“ aus den Jahren 1911/12, der von Ferne – zumindest wird das auch durch den Titel suggeriert – an das Klavierwerk von Brahms und Beethoven denken lässt.
Featured Artists Recorded

April 2011, Auditorio RSI - Radio Svizzera, Lugano

Original Release Date


  • 1Sonata op. 1
    (Alban Berg)
  • V mlhách / In the mists
    (Leoš Janáček)
  • 2I Andante03:28
  • 3II Molto adagio05:08
  • 4III Andantino02:56
  • 5IV Presto04:06
  • 6Sonata in B minor (1853)
    (Franz Liszt)
Várjon makes rigorous sense of the work’s [Liszt’s Sonata in B minor] episodic structure, showing powerful ease in the fugue but enjoying the rhapsodic nature of the rest. The Liszt is preceded by two later works influenced by it: Berg’s one-movement Sonata Op 1 and Janácek’s In the Mists. Várjon is always perceptive as a chamber musician. It’s a treat to hear him alone.
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
Negotiating dynamic shifts of emphasis, Várjon displays that most valuable of gifts: the ability to play in a way which makes you listen anew to the familiar.
Andy Gill, The Independent
I feel as though I have been waiting for this disc for 40 years. In that time I have accumulated countless version of Liszt’s B minor Piano Sonata, one of the greatest musical creations of the 19th century. […]Dénes Várjon, the Hungarian pianist, has produced an extraordinary version that is imperative for devotees of the piece. He has all the power, passion, poetry and steely virtuosity you would expect but it’s the thinking that does it. Várjon introduces huge points of articulation in the structure. He is unafraid to open vast spaces between paragraphs and sections. The technique expands the epic proportions of the sonata but, crucially, doesn’t slow it down or interrupt the flow. This is a monumental version of the masterpiece.
Michael Tumelty, Sunday Herald
 “Perhaps it is the lustre of Dénes Várjon’s playing that lifts everything he performs here into a state of newness, of beginning, and thereby directs our attention to how, in all this music, beginnings are crucial and, once made, decisive.” So begins Paul Griffiths’s liner note for the first solo recital recording by Dénes Várjon. It is a recording that brings the music of Franz Liszt into juxtaposition with works of two composers inspired by him. As Várjon says, “It is always highly interesting to find connections between composers, and bridges between epochs in musical history. In the mirror of other composers and periods, I begin to see new dimensions of works which I have performed, and this is especially the case when I play pieces by Ferenc Liszt.”

For Várjon, the importance of Liszt transcends the piano and his vision of its possibilities. “Even more strongly, I see him as a main figure of the current of music history. There are certain works by him I need to play and explore again and again – especially his enigmatic late piano pieces, including the four Valses Oubliées and the Mephisto Waltzes, the A-major Piano Concerto and, most importantly, his B-minor Sonata. I feel the Sonata is a most essential and pure manifestation of the art of Ferenc Liszt. For all its rich texture, its great structure and its length, there is not one single note which is not a most important part of the whole.”

Playing Liszt in context with Berg’s Piano Sonata and Janáček’s In the Mists offers further insights. “I hear of course the echo from Liszt's music in Berg and Janáček but even more I realize, through the latter composers, the new and the modern in Liszt's work. The harmonic world of Alban Berg opens the ears to all the innovative solutions of Liszt, and the one movement shape of the Berg Sonata gives new perspectives on just how modern it was in Liszt's time to compose a piece like his B-minor Sonata. I also don't see it as a contradiction that while I hear the modern side of Liszt, the Berg opus 1 is also a very romantic piece for me.” Written around 1907, while Berg was under Schönberg’s tutelage the piece is also indebted to Mahler and Debussy as well as to Liszt. Paul Griffiths points to similarities between the Berg sonata and Janáček’s In The Mists of 1912: “the influence of Debussy, the extending but not breaking of tonal harmony, the motivic consistency, the constantly vocal utterance ….”

Várjon: “The expressivity of Janáček’s parlando is very similar to that of Béla Bartók. Though I don't speak Janáček’s language, through my knowledge of Hungarian folk music, I’ve always had an affection for this very special music and a connection to it. I find him one of the most unique composers.”

Dénes Várjon studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, receiving tuition in piano from Sándor Falvai and chamber music from György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados. Parallel to his studies, he was a regular participant of master classes with András Schiff. He is first prize winner of the Piano Competition of the Hungarian Radio, the Leo Weiner Chamber Music Competition in Budapest and the Concours Géza Anda in Zürich.

Várjon is a regular guest at festivals including Salzburger Festspiele, Lucerne Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik-Festival, Biennale di Venezia, Marlboro Festival (USA), Klavierfestival Ruhr, Kunstfest Weimar, and Edinburgh Festival. He is invited annually to András Schiff’s and Heinz Holliger’s Ittinger Pfingstkonzerte.

He has performed with major orchestras such as The Camerata Salzburg, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Wiener Kammerorchester, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra Budapest, the Camerata Bern, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zürich, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Bremen Philharmonic, Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica, and many others. He is currently working with conductors such as Heinz Holliger, Adam Fischer, Leopold Hager, Iván Fischer, Hubert Soudant, Peter Rundel, Thomas Zehetmair and many more.

“Precipitando” follows Várjon’s recording of Heinz Holliger’s “Romancendres” and an album of Robert Schumann’s sonatas for violin and piano, with Carolin Widmann, both discs receiving much positive press.