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 Princess’s 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.
review by Dave Billinge