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Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Nach der Wendung (Elegies) [6.50]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Petrarch Sonnets

No.4 – Sonnet 47 [6.52]
No.5 – Sonnet 104 [6.10]
No.6 – Sonnet 123 [7.49]
Resignazione [2.15]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) - Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)

Goldberg Variations BWV988 – arranged Busoni (1914) [36.02]
Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland - arranged Busoni (1898) [7.03]
Claudius Tanski (piano)
Recorded Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, July 2004
MDG 312 1323-2 [74.54]

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The catalogue tends to groan under the weight of hyphenated Bach and especially hyphenated Bach-Busoni but this disc springs a big surprise. It gives us Busoni’s reworking of The Goldberg Variations. I’d never heard it before and it proves to be of some compelling interest. Busoni wrote it in 1914, reducing the variations to just twenty in number, jettisoning repeats, creating it anew in purely pianistic terms – a concert version in other words replete with Busonian octave transpositions and thunderous bass octaves. Free parts replace written out ornaments and new melody lines are created, the most astonishing of which is the reappearance of the Aria, which is profoundly altered.

There are now three parts in Busoni’s structure and we can hear how a composer-pianist sets about creating an entity from his material, ending the First Part for example with an Andante con grazia and starting the Second Part with a reworking that is more Busoni than Bach. His so-called Allegretto piacevole sounds very pleasing here with its bell-like tone but the Non Allegro movement just before the end of Part Two sounds frankly absurd. Elsewhere Busoni lards Bach’s work with an evocation of a musical toy-box (Bach meets Busoni via Liadov) and ends with a grandiose and gloriously misconceived rewriting of the Aria – with octave transformations and an imposed chorale. It is also unduly protracted by Tanski, who has taken advantage of the relative licence offered to engage in some Gouldian tempi for the Aria.

Perhaps all Busoni admirers should try to hear what he has done to the Goldbergs, if only to test their allegiance against Busoni’s cheek. If so they will hear that Tanski takes Nun komm der Heiden Heiland rather slowly and self-consciously. In Nach der Wendung he fights a noisy piano action and an enveloping acoustic. As for his Liszt, maybe it’s harsh to judge him against Wild and Richter but, merely to demarcate Tanski’s priorities, I should say his three Petrarch Sonnets are relatively slow. They lack the daemonic drama that is so much a feature of Wild’s Liszt recordings and lack the incredible tension Richter generated from the Sonnets.

Jonathan Woolf

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