> Ferruccio Busoni - Turandot Suite [DB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866 - 1924)

Turandot Suite Op.41 (1905)
Sarabande and Cortège: Two Studies for Doktor Faust Op.51 (1919)
Berceuse élégiaque Op.42 (1909)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Samuel Wong
Recorded Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong, January 2001, DDD Stereo
NAXOS 8.555373 [70:50]


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One great joy of record collecting is the discovery of an unsuspected masterpiece. Busoniís Berceuse élégiaque is one such. Its eleven minutes encapsulate a remarkable restraint concealing huge power. This is a very big work which never rises above mezzo forte and is over in less time than a Rossini overture. Busoni derived it from a piano piece written earlier in the same year. In it he poured out his grief at the death of his mother. Yet like the Sarabande and Cortège of ten years later, this is not a romantic post Mahlerian outburst. This is music of the utmost objectivity. It reminds me of another great objectivist, Carl Nielsen, who, in, for example, The Inextinguishable, expressed momentous issues with Socratic detachment. Busoni was a friend of Nielsen (the latterís 2nd Symphony is dedicated to Busoni) and they had a deep and mutual respect. Perhaps this is part of the reason why.

Busoni never finished his great opera Doktor Faust and its gestation occupied him for many years. The Two Studies for Doktor Faust Op.51 of (1919) were not mere fragmentary workings out, though the fragments were reused in Faust, but complete and mature studies that stand alone and apart from that opera.. When he died in 1924 he still had not finished his operatic magnum opus, and the world gained yet another unfinished masterpiece. Oddly, given the contents of this disc, it was only two years later that a still more famous, though not greater, unfinished masterpiece was unveiled, Pucciniís Turandot. He too had succumbed to his final illness without composing the conclusion. We are perhaps fortunate that Busoniís opera was finished with more subtlety by his pupil Philipp Jarnach than the tub thumping conclusion that Alfano utilised for Puccini. But I digress. The Sarabande and Cortège are magnificent movements, the first noble but uncertain, the second spooky and malevolent, virtually studies of Faust and of Mephistopheles. The excellent (though oddly incomplete - see below - notes) remind one that Busoni was pursuing an experiment in "ambiguous tonality" (another link with Nielsen) and in all three of the pieces mentioned so far one is never left to settle into an emotional response. At every turn we are disturbed by tonal shifts.

The longest piece on this outstanding Naxos issue is, appropriately, the Turandot Suite which Busoni completed in 1905. He composed it as a response to reading Gozziís play but it was later used as incidental music some six years later in a staging of Turandot by Max Reinhardt in Berlin. I am a little amazed that the otherwise excellent liner notes by Richard Whitehouse donít mention that a further ten years later Busoni created an opera from this same music. It gained its first performance in a double bill with Arlecchino in 1917. The suite, even sans voices, is superb. It has sinister moments that would not be out of place in Doktor Faust - Altoumís March and the Night Waltz for example. Turandotís March is a long and very complex movement that speaks volumes about her character. In many ways this is as impressive as Puccini, though very different. Both composers were clearly drawn to the sinister aspects of this bizarre and cruel story. I suppose if I am forced to choose, Iíd give Puccini the winnerís medal for his fantastic tunes. Busoniís masterwork was Faust, not Turandot.

I have not mentioned the magnificent contribution of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Iíd expected them to be at home with the chinoiserie of Turandotís Dance and Song, but I was unprepared for the superb quality of their strings. This has turned into a very classy orchestra indeed, one which Samuel Wong, their recently appointed Principal Conductor, has every right to be proud of. A magnificent achievement all round. You have to buy this! More, please, Naxos!

Dave Billinge

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