Transcendental Etudes

Sandro Russo


Acclaimed for his profound sense of poetry and distinctive style, Sandro Russo’s playing has often been referred to as a throwback to the grand tradition of elegant pianism and beautiful sound. For Mr. Russo’s latest Steinway & Sons release, he gives a powerful performance of Franz Liszt’s visionary masterpiece, Études d'exécution transcendante.

The music of liszt has always been an inseparable part of my musicianship
– Sandro Russo


On May 3, 2024 Steinway& Sons releases Liszt: Transcendental Etudes / Sandro Russo (STNS 30233). As Mr. Russo writes in his liner notes, the Transcendental Etudes embody some of the most significant traits of Liszt’s prolific “Weimar” period: the quest for new aesthetics of sound; an evident simplification of textures (as suggested by Schumann); and a stronger-than-ever penchant for programmatic elements derived from literature, nature, and the visual arts. Liszt also brought a new, truly poetic dimension to these Etudes by adding highly evocative titles to ten of them. 

Some of the Transcendental Etudes evoke nature in its idyllic beauty and fierceness (i.e., “Paysage” and “Chasse-neige,” respectively); mythological figures (“Wilde jagd”); legends/heroes (“Mazeppa,” as portrayed in Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, or “Vision,” believed to represent Napoleon’s funeral procession); ghostly phenomena (“Feux follets”); while others evince more harmonic lushness and lyricism (“Ricordanza” and “Harmonies du soir”).

As the word “Transcendental” implies, Liszt is more concerned with tailoring the étude art form to the drama and visionary content each piece represents, rather than limiting it to a given technical aspect; he uses the latter more as a point of departure. Each of his Transcendental Etudes, in fact, becomes like a “tone poem.” Even the first Etude, “Preludio,” is hardly a “warm up” piece to plunge into the cycle, but rather a work with a full narrative arch––despite its being less than a minute long. The later Etudes, with their more poetically descriptive titles, are undoubtedly more elaborate in their form and harmonic language.

Whether or not Liszt may have conceived the 12 Transcendental Etudes to be performed as a cycle, their programmatic elements, along with the intricacy of some of their narratives, could give one almost the sense of an entire opera’s being performed at the piano! After all, it was Liszt who had invented the modern piano recital. In any event, what seems clear is that Liszt chose to eschew conventional didactics and craft highly evolved concert pieces designed to evoke deep emotions in his listeners.  

— Sandro Russo


“Russo’s splendid technique includes masterful manipulation of tonal color within tautly constructed phrases.”

 “Noble forces are at work here, generating the sound aesthetics of beauty and adroit virtuosity, a combination that is...the essence of Russo’s artistic expression.” 

Audiophile Audition

“Ricordanza was evocative. The first theme was noble, and the beautiful ornamentation and filigree passagework were deftly played....In Harmonies du Soir the introduction was gorgeously played, and Mr. Russo later showed his sensitivity to tonal color in modulations, especially in the coda.”

The Classical Music Guide

“The performance of‘Ricordanza’ is quite simply wonderful. Liszt’s intoxicating melody is surrounded with gossamer arabesques, filigree decorations and enchanting traceries of sound. ...Russo summons up a glorious impressionistic sound world in ‘Harmonies du Soir’, the central section becoming increasingly tempestuous and dramatic. The technical command and perfection which is a feature of this recording continues right to the end. ‘Chasse-neige’ is richly atmospheric with the bleakness and ferocity of the snowstorm realised to perfection... This is outstanding piano playing and a recording of the Transcendental Études which compares with those by the very best performers of the set.”

MusicWeb International



Liszt: Transcendental Etudes / Sandro Russo • STNS 30233

Release Date: 05/03/2024

Recorded September 13-15, 2023 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia.

Producer: Ruoting Li
Engineers: Joshua Frey, Daniel Shores
Editing/Mastering: Peter Atkinson
Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner

Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Photos of Sandro Russo: Arthur Moeller
Project Coordinator: Renée Oakford
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Piano Technician: John Veitch

This recording was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Italian Academy Foundation. 


About the Artist

Acclaimed for his profound sense of poetry and distinctive style, Sandro Russo’s playing has often been referred to as a throwback to the grand tradition of elegant pianism and beautiful sound. Abbey Simon praised him as “an artist to his fingertips…musical, intuitive, and a master of the instrument.” Lowell Liebermann called him “a musician’s musician, and a pianist’s pianist. There is no technical challenge too great for him, but it is his musicianship that ultimately makes the greatest impression. His interpretations reveal a unique and profound artist at work.”

Born in San Giovanni Gemini, Italy, Mr. Russo displayed exceptional musical talent from an early age. He later entered the V. Bellini Conservatory, from which institution he graduated summa cum laude. He also earned the Pianoforte Performing Diploma from the Royal College of Music in London with honors. Soon after Mr. Russo moved to the United States in 2000, he won the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition, and has ever since performed in such prestigious concert halls as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Weill and Zankel halls at Carnegie Hall, Kilbourn Hall (Eastman Theatre), Salle Cortot in Paris, Teatro Politeama in Palermo, the Konzerthaus Berlin, Stoller Hall in Manchester (UK) and Nagasaki Brick Hall in Japan.  

His recitals include performances for The Rachmaninoff Society, the Dame Myra Hess series in Chicago, the American Liszt Society, the Houston International Piano Festival, the Husum Festival of Piano Rarities in Germany, the Chetham's International Piano Festival in Manchester (UK) and the Fernando Laires series at the Eastman Theatre. Mr. Russo has appeared as a soloist with the Slovak Philharmonic in Bratislava, the Jacksonville Symphony in Florida and the Brussels Chamber Orchestra, among others.

Mr. Russo’s performances have aired on major radio stations in the US and abroad. His albums include, among others, Scarlatti Recreated, Russian Gems: Piano Rarities, Rachmaninov – Solo Piano Works and Images et Mirages: Hommage à Debussy. The latter, released to critical acclaim in October 2018 on the Steinway & Sons label, was chosen “Disc of the Month” by Italy’s Classic Voice magazine and was also featured in Gramophone’s “Sounds of America.” On October 4, 2019, Steinway & Sons released Mr. Russo’s 3rd album, Chopin – Late Masterpieces.

Mr. Russo has also gained attention for an extensive repertoire that is comprised not only of well-known masterpieces from all periods but also of rarities of the piano literature. His virtuoso performances of works by Cziffra, Sorabji, Marc-André Hamelin and other composer-pianists have enthralled music connoisseurs from around the world. He has also premiered compositions by Lowell Liebermann, Paul Moravec, M.A. Hamelin and Vladimir Leyetchkiss.

Sandro Russo is a Steinway Artist.


About Steinway & Sons label

The STEINWAY & SONS music label produces exceptional albums of solo piano music across all genres. The label — a division of STEINWAY & SONS, maker of the world’s finest pianos — is a perfect vessel for producing the finest quality recordings by some of the most talented pianists in the world.

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