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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Works for Piano and Orchestra

Concerto for Piano and String Quartet Op.17 (1878)
Concertstück for Piano and Orchestra Op.31a (1890)
Indian Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra Op.44 (1913-15)
Carlo Grante (piano)
I Pomeriggi Musicali/Marco Zuccarini
No recording details given
MUSIC AND ARTS CD 1047 [64.39]

Though the recording details are hazy – no date or location – this disc serves a useful purpose in charting Busoni’s increasing mastery of, and confidence in, concerto form. This isn’t altogether surprising given that the earliest of the three works here, for Piano and string quartet, was written when he was a precocious youth of twelve. Twenty minutes, and four movements, in length it receives here its premiere recording. Carlo Grante’s piano is granted an unlikely perspective – very upfront and unnaturally lit. At least the compensatory features are those of sheer admiration at Busoni’s fusion of classical formality and individual touches of personalised nuance (as for example in the very opening piano statement which seems to appear before its due time, rather impishly). There are few anticipations of the mature Busoni here but there are numerous reflections of his early love for and absorption of Mozartian models. In the slow movement, though, the piano’s hesitant entries speak of other influences. For all the world sounding like a mid-period Beethoven sonata this Adagio has an unexpected seriousness but also a chaste intimacy and delicacy. The more intense sections are imbued with a baroque spirit. There’s something Schubertian about the lyrical Scherzo and whilst the finale is more conventional it reveals no little compositional skill. There is also a good sense of interplay between the solo piano and the accompanying group, here expanded beyond the quartet to a small chamber group.

The Concertstück dates from 1890 when Busoni was twenty-four. It won him the Rubinstein Prize for composition but its debt to Brahms is clear; often invigoratingly so. Some of the harmonies are quite complex and Busoni utilises more baroque procedures as well. This gives the work a sense of span and an almost documentary feel. The very Brahmsian passagework lacks Brahms’ depth, of course, but I particularly admired the pulsatingly chordal solo section that heralds the arrival of the fugato section – a disconcerting brief fugue though. Elsewhere Busoni uses some burnished horn melodies that add an attractive layer of solidity and lyrical craft to the writing.

The Indian Fantasy is very much more terra cognita as far as the discography is concerned. Completed in 1915 it is more quintessential Busoni than the two earlier works. It is not without its deeply problematic side, with regard to construction. Essentially this is a three section, one movement work in which the sections are linked by piano cadenzas. Busoni knows precisely how to conjoin moments of rough drive with reflective stasis, holding the active and passive components of the dialogue in just accord. The folk-like music conjoins with the more argumentative drive of Busoni’s schema to produce a sometimes frustrating but always intriguing musical argument. Again Grante is too far forward when it comes to a reasonable balance between piano and orchestra. Against that his pianism is impressive, enthusiastic, comprehensive, technically eloquent and idiomatic. I Pomeriggi Musicali under the conductor Marco Zuccarini accompany well, though the balance, that exaggerates Grante, sometimes diminishes their contribution. Still, a most enthusiastic welcome.

Jonathan Woolf



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