Entitled Doppelgänger, this CD presents 14 Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs played by young Bulgarian pianist Dora Deliyska. Unlike so many young virtuosi nowadays, Deliyska has the full measure of the Lisztian or Schubertian style: plenty of rubato, a fluid and flexible musical line, and the kind of luftpausen that create dramatic as well as musical tension. The question, as always, is at what point do these transcriptions cross the line from artistry to simple exhibitionism? Are they truly art, or just pop schlock of their time? Deliyska makes a strong case for the former, getting deep in the keys and producing a sound on her Bösendorfer that is as rich as it is pearl-like. The sound quality is, in a word, stunning. She could be playing that piano you have right next to your stereo speakers.

I found myself absolutely entranced by her playing, so much so that—especially in such less familiar songs as “Lob der Tränen,” “Frühlingssehnsucht,” and “Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen”—I was as much taken by Liszt’s ultra-rich, Romantic keyboard writing as by the original melodies. In her hands, it becomes evident that Liszt was not trying to “improve” on Schubert or replace the sung versions with piano transcriptions, but creating meditations on those songs. This was especially apparent in one of the “simplest” Schubert songs, “Hark, hark the lark,” which Liszt transforms via variations of an outstanding variety and color. I am almost ashamed to admit that I preferred the Liszt transcription to the original song!

Indeed, it is Deliyska’s lyrical warmth and tremendous attention to detail that wins you over. She obviously spent a lot of time with these pieces, and perhaps even listened to some of the great Schubert song interpreters of the 20th century—at least, it sounds like it to me. The soft, bell-like chords that Liszt wrote into “Du bist die Ruh’” sound out here with delicacy and tremendous sensitivity, and the fantasia-like transcription of “Die Forelle” completely transforms that tune from a catchy little lilt to something much more profound, almost Chopinesque in feeling. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t escape the feeling that although these transcriptions were written by Liszt, that somehow this pianist-composer was channeling his Polish competitor.

In its own field, then, this is a stunningly beautiful recording, entirely unique in style and presentation. I wish only the best for Deliyska in her career. She is someone very special.

-Lynn René Bayley