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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Turandot Suite Op.41 (1917)
1. Scene 1: The Execution, the City Gate and the Departure
2. Scene 2: Truffaldino's March
3. Scene 3: Altoum's March
4. Scene 4: Turandot's March
5. Scene 5: Turandot's Chamber
6. Scenes 5/6: Dance and Song
7. Scene 7: Night Waltz
8. Scene 8: Quasi-Funeral March and Finale alla Turca
Two Studies for Doktor Faust Op.51 (1916-24)
9. Sarabande
10. Cortège
11. Berceuse élégiaque, Op.42 (1909)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra/Samuel Wong
Recorded at Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong, 22-23 January 2001
NAXOS 8.555373 [70:50]


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The Turandot Suite was inspired by Carlo Gozzi's play. There is a continual sense of grotesquerie and foreboding involved in the story, and Busoni's orchestration is vivid and brilliant. In one or two instances in the score, the comic element comes into play (especially in the final movement of the suite), which Samuel Wong exploits, but essentially his performance is one that concentrates on the grotesque and ominous side of the score. This in itself explains the tempi used, which seem (I do not possess a score) absolutely ideal for Wong's realisation. Essentially the suite mainly comprises marches and waltzes, finishing with a quasi-funereal march. I simply cannot understand those who maintain that the tempo is too slow. Any faster and the sense of grotesquerie and pomp would be lost.

The opening portrays Prince Calaf's entrance through the gates to Peking. Wong plays this bringing out a subtle sense of threat. This leads gradually to a grand piece of "pomp and circumstance". Wong doesn't overplay this, but the effect is still powerful.

The central piece of the suite is Turandot's March. It depicts in eerie fashion the cunning of the Princess, and her ice-cold beauty. The climactic depiction of the unveiling of the Princessís beauty, the orchestral treatment is stunning. The Night Waltz acts as a sort of recapitulation, leading to the Quasi-Funeral March and the final joyous ending (alla Turca).

Throughout the score, not one bar seems extraneous. One feels the hand of Samuel Wong maintaining a rigid grip on the proceedings, and one instantly senses a high level of responsiveness from the Hong Kong orchestra. The woodwind and flute arabesques are beautifully executed, the lower strings shine gloriously in one section, and in the main the upper strings are rock solid. The horn parts shine through sounding positively Wagnerian in the opening bars of the Night Waltz. This is a generally excellent recording, which needs to be played at a higher level to appreciate the expansiveness available.

A keen sense of mystery is evoked in the Doktor Faust pieces, especially the Sarabande, whilst the Cortège displays wonderful rhythmic vitality, and fine grip exerted by Wong. These pieces are considered to be among Busoni's finest. The orchestration of the concluding Berceuse élégiaque which drew high praise from no less than Richard Strauss. There the use of harp and muted strings adds to the misty (almost Baxian) atmosphere. The piece finishes with reminiscences of the fading bars of Das Lied von der Erde.

This is a wonderful CD. I am surprised that this repertoire has not become much better known. There is no sense whatsoever of routine playing on this CD, and much is due to Samuel Wong and his Hong Kongers. Hats off to Busoni as well. In short, I love the disk. My introduction to Busoni, to boot.

Ray Hall

see also review by Dave Billinge


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