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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Busoni Piano Music: Volume 4
Johann Sebastian BACH/BUSONI
Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532 (transc. Busoni) (1880s) [11:14]
BUSONI Elegien, K249 (1907) [29:09]
Berceuse (“Elegie No. 7”), K252 (1909) [4:32]
Fantasia nach J. S. Bach, K253 (1909) [9:43]
Toccata, K287 (1920) [9:39]

Wolf Harden (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 20-21 May 2007. DDD
Producer, Engineer, Editor: John Taylor
NAXOS 8.570543 [64:17] 


Experience Classicsonline

The Busoni transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532 is masterful. Harden is expert at the more melting passages of the Prelude. His more forthright passages - the very opening being among them - can tend towards the literal. The recording precludes any trace of harshness. The Fugue begins rather like an exercise under Harden’s fingers, but builds to an imposing, magnificently Busoni-augmented close.

The Elegies form excellent contrast. The restrained first, “Nach der Wendung” meditates hypnotically on superbly ambiguous harmonies. No mistaking the Italian flavour of “All’Italia!” – the world of Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli is never far away here. The more expressionist “Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir” is a prelude on a Lutheran chorale that sees the original transformed into Busonian mysticism. The famous “Turandots Frauengemach” (Intermezzo) uses the theme we in the UK know best as “Greensleeves”. Richard Whitehouse’s excellent notes refer to this as a “well-known and allegedly ‘Chinese’ tune”, presumably to keep the surprise for the first-time listener. The shadowy waltz of “Die Nächtlichen” is magnificently rendered here; the final elegy, “Erscheinung”, is less successful. Harden takes its fragmentary questioning too far and the piece ends up aimlessly disjunct until the final, tremolando-dominated couple of minutes. The “seventh” Elegie was itself rewritten and expanded into Berceuse élegiaque. The piece sounds like a sort of Busonian Debussy.

Busoni referred to the Fantasia we hear here as a “translation” rather than a transcription – implying there is at least as much Busoni as there is Bach. And so it proves. The chorale “Christ, du bist der Helle Tag” is treated to Busonian arpeggio decoration before another chorale, “Gorres Sohn ist kommen” (aka “In dulci jubilo”) appears, sweetly, quietly, but unmistakably. Finally, “Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott” appears as a final arrival point. The interaction between Bachian harmonies and Busonian ones is fascinating – it is as if the music moves in and out of focus.

Finally, The Toccata of 1920, written after Busoni’s return to Berlin. Contemporary with his opera, Doktor Faust, it is clearly penned in a more advanced idiom than anything we have heard so far on the disc. It requires all of Harden’s virtuosity not only to deliver the notes but also to bring across the multi-faceted states of this tripartite piece (Preludio-Fantasia-Ciaccona). In the latter stages, he feels a little pressed at times, but this is a valuable account nonetheless.

Back in 2007, I reviewed Volume 3 of this series: the Naxos Busoni series continues here in enduringly fascinating fashion. There is the by-now standard download available with every hard-copy purchase. In this case, it is the first movement of Respighi’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 16 played by Konstantin Scherbakov, from 8.553704.

Colin Clarke 









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