Busoni is not exactly an over-recorded composer
and the present disc ushers two works into the catalogue for
the first time - that is until someone tells me otherwise.
Black arts, the supernatural and wizardry of
the three hour opera Die Brautwahl made me think of the
early German expressionist cinema: Der Golem and The
Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Busoni, wishing to rescue some vivid
music from the oblivion into which Brautwahl fell after
its first six performances at the Hamburg Opera, created a five
movement suite. This was premiered in Berlin on 3 January 1913
by Berlin PO/Oskar Fried. Busoni conducted it with the LSO at
London's Queen's Hall on 22 June 1920.
The Suite: 1. Ghostly Music: reeks with
the influences of Dukas, Berlioz and even early Mahler (first
symphony). 2. Lyric Music is affecting with a touch of
Schreker and, over a barely audible pizzicato, a resilient string
theme skating over the edge of bathos into John Barry territory
without quite falling into the pit. Busoni handles his fine
invention with delicacy and no hint of fatigue. 3. Mystic
Piece is druidic - akin to John Ireland's Forgotten Rite
(exactly contemporaneous) mixed with Rachmaninov's Isle
Of The Dead, La Valse and Valse Triste. 4.
Hebrew Music veers between sobriety and distrait
emotionalism. Some wonderfully dry brass playing is to be heard
amid all the Faustian wraiths. 5. Joyous Music: This
brief toboggan ride of a movement, flits and effervesces: wind-blown,
Hungarian (the similarity is to Bartók's Concerto
for Orchestra) and aromatic.
Geharnischte Suite (The Armoured Suite)
is in four movements (premiered in 8 October 1897) and is not
linked to any opera. Busoni's spell (1888-1890) in Helsinki,
then Helsingfors, brought him into contact with Sibelius and
his circle. The four movements are dedicated to the friends
of Lesko ('Den Leskowiten' in the score). Lesko was Busoni's
dog. The booklet includes a photograph of Busoni with Lesko.
The movements are: 1. Sibelius; 2. Adolf Paul (the playwright
whose works were furnished with incidental music by Sibelius);
3. Armas Järnefelt (he of Praeludium fame); 4 Eero
Järnefelt (Armas's brother).
The 'armour' of the title relates to the chivalric
scene and can be equated with the shivered lances, metal-laden
destriers and gleaming heroism of Elgar's Froissart Overture.
For all this, Busoni's suite is frequently lighter in mood than
the Elgar: Gallic and jolly - not at all Lutheran. The Grabdenkmal
third movement is earnest with Sibelian eddies (symphony
1 and Kullervo, En Saga) and Brucknerian surges.
This processional also links with Havergal Brian's In Memoriam.
The Ansturm is as bellicose as Szymanowski's Concert
Overture and as cheeky as Schwanda the Bagpiper though
not as overblown as the Szymanowski. As remission from this
mood there is a memorable interlude of wood-magic (which has
nothing to do with assaults!) with wonderful hushed strings
over the lightest brass staccato.
The playing of the Timisoara Orchestra is clean
though not always totally as fluent as the music seems to demand.
A greater luxuriance amongst the strings would have been desirable
but there is nothing here to cause offence and much to reward.
An easily recommendable disc and one that bids
fair to remind us of a little considered corner of the musical