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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Piano Transcriptions: Volume 2

Große Fuge, after J.S. Bach (1910-21) [20.10]
Scherzo, after Otakar Novácek, String Quartet (1892) [3.10]
Andantino, after Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 9 (1913) [8.52]
Three arrangements from the Klavierübung (1918-22): Mozart: Don Giovanni’s Serenade [1.38]; Offenbach: Barcarolle, from the Tales of Hoffmann [1.31]; Liszt: Gondoliera [2.10]
Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, after Liszt (not dated) [26.04]
Widmung, after J.S. Bach (1916) [0.45]
Holger Gröschöpp (piano)
rec. 29-30 March 2004, Stido 10, Deutschland Radio, Berlin
CAPRICCIO 67 135 [65.09]

 

Busoni was one of the most important musicians of his generation: as composer, pianist, theorist, writer and teacher. He was among the finest pianists of a period rich in fine pianists, and his compositions for his own instrument inevitably lie at the centre of his creative achievement.

Like so many of the great pianist-composers, Busoni was profoundly aware of the legacy of the masters, and wished to bring that legacy before a wider public at the same time as providing a vehicle for his own creativity as a composer and virtuosity as a performer. A good deal of this music is hardly known, and Holger Gröschöpp’s second volume is a labour of love that responds to the demands of the music as a challenge to the performer, at the same time as putting it once again in the limelight.

This particular programme is dominated by two major and challenging pieces: the ‘contrapuntal fantasy on Bach’s last and unfinished work’, and the reworking for piano of the organ masterpiece Liszt composed on the chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam.

This music is challenging for all concerned, including the listener. Over a twenty-minute span Busoni works his Bach material in a manner which is inspired by his reverence for Bach’s genius, but which is also very much his own at the same time. The results are somewhat mixed, the musical line struggling to be maintained in a complex of dense counterpoint and earnest climaxes. To what extent a different performance would clear the way it is hard to tell, but it would seem churlish to lay blame at the feet of the pianist rather than to acknowledge particular demands of the earnest intensity of the composer on this particular occasion. To complete Bach’s final, unfinished fugue is one of the greatest challenges confronting any composer.

The piano version of the Liszt organ piece is altogether more satisfying, since it captures both the spirit and the detail of the original, while also cleaning the textures to allow details to make a telling point. This is an ambitious work, and was also so in Liszt’s original. Busoni’s love and understanding of it are communicated with some conviction by the pianist and the recording engineers. This is probably the highlight of the disc.

Again I have mixed feelings about the shorter items. The slow movement of Mozart’s ‘Jeunehomme’ Piano Concerto (No. 9 in E flat major, K271) is a beautifully judged piece in its original form, but Busoni’s transcription seems unduly heavy and fussy, by turns. Perhaps a lighter touch in the articulation of dynamic shadings might have been possible, but one is reminded of the Emperor’s comment to Mozart: ‘Too many notes’. And on this occasion many of them were not necessary.

There is room for charm also in Busoni’s response to some music, such as Offenbach’s famous Barcarolle and, at the other extreme, the Scherzo from Novácek’s String Quartet. A string quartet might have been unpromising material for a piano transcription in lesser hands, but Busoni’s version is most effective. The clarity of the recording is another advantage, Equally the short items by Liszt, Mozart (from Don Giovanni) and Bach (Widmung) are all enjoyable, proving perhaps that in the art of transcription brevity is generally an advantage.

Holger Gröschöpp himself writes the insert notes, and these are extensive and informative, though it is a pity that there is no date given for the version of Liszt’s great organ masterpiece.

Terry Barfoot



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