Whole Lotta Liszt

If there'd been an American Idol back in the 1840s, this crazy dude named Franz Liszt probably would have won it. The Hungarian composer and pianist was as big a showman as he was a virtuoso. Performing unheard-of technical feats, the dashing young Liszt was the embodiment of the romantic era and the rock star of his day. There was nothing he couldn't play and no antic he wouldn't try, from swooning and sobbing at the keyboard to looking heavenward in mystical rapture as he performed to screaming, fainting women who had to be restrained from ripping his clothes off. "Lisztomania" swept Europe, fueled not only by Liszt's good looks and passionate artistry but also by his mind-boggling compositions, which were so fiendishly difficult that nobody else could play them. Among the most daunting of his works were the six "Paganini" Etudes, composed in honor of his idol, Nicolo Paganini, a wizard violin virtuoso who inspired Liszt to match him at the keyboard. This weekend, another fearless pianist, Rufus Choi, will perform a rarely attempted feat: all six of the "Paganini" etudes, plus other works, in an all-Liszt recital guaranteed to blow the roof off Zipper Hall. Winner of both the Grand Prize and the People's Choice Award at the prestigious Jose Iturbi International Piano Competition, Choi has been praised for his incredible tone, blistering technique and "white-hot passion." Sounds like Liszt himself.
Sun., June 19, 3 p.m., 2011

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