It is intriguing that
there is no mention on the front cover
of this CD that one of the main works
is by Busoni's contemporary Ottorino
Respighi. Yet this work is a most valuable
inclusion into the recorded music repertoire
both for the composer and for cello.
As far as I am aware there is only one
other current CD recording of the Adagio
con variazioni as a chamber piece.
This work has long
been a favourite of mine in its later
incarnation as a piece for cello and
orchestra. The original was composed
over a few years beginning in 1903.
It is usually regarded as being a part
of the composer's juvenilia. The work
is based on an original theme by Antonio
Certani, who was a friend of the composer,
living in Bologna. The piece is quite
beautiful from start to finish; the
melodic line being full of warmth and
always somewhat melancholic. This is
not a virtuosic work in the sense of
rapid and complex figurations for the
soloist. Rather it is the deeply expressive
and rhapsodic singing tone of the instrument
that has to be well brought out. This
is achieved in this excellent performance
that delivers an almost classical balance.
There is serenity too and this matches
passages from the slow movement of Elgar's
Cello Concerto. Busoni
is well known as an editor of Bach.
I was amused to see that the programme
notes mention the same little problem
I encountered many years ago. Many years
ago I found some music in a secondhand
bookshop that had 'Bach-Busoni' as the
composer. It was a wee while before
I realised that one was the editor and
the other composer. There was no similarity
I have always retained
a liking for the Busoni pianoforte transcriptions
and editions of Bach - even if they
are not now musically 'correct.' For
example the Chaconne in D minor
is one of my all-time favourites. The
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue
(1917) is a work that was transcribed
in the 'romantic' manner. Yet it works!
This is my first time hearing this cello/piano
version and it strikes me as well balanced
and totally satisfying. The sorting
out of the original two hands for piano
into effectively three strands is virtually
seamless. I hope this work finds its
way into the recital room.
The Little Suite
Op.23 (1885-86) is neither an arrangement
nor a transcription. Yet the entire
work seems to be suffused with the music
temperament of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The programme notes describe it as an
'idealised reconstruction of a Bach
Suite with some concessions towards
the instrumental idioms of late romanticism.'
I am always wary of assuming that 'little'
suites or pieces are also 'easy.' I
have usually found that 'easy' technically
is very 'hard' musically! See for example
Schumann's Traumerei! This present
work is not 'little' in any sense of
the word. In fact, it is a quite a large
suite really. Five contrasting movement
running to nearly twenty minutes. Interest
is never lost. Every note seems to have
its value and place; each of the movements
presents attractive material. The heart
of the work is undeniably the Sostenuto
ed espressivo. This is really a Sarabande
by another name; very beautiful and
profound. However I would rather this
was not excerpted from the suite as
we need the surrounding movements for
contrast. This movement is one of the
most perfect miniatures for cello and
piano in the entire literature.
The suite finishes
with a Moderato ma con brio which
is a perfect follow-on to the depth
of the previous movement. Not all 'brio'
however - there are some reflective
passages in this music. This has moved
away from the mood of Bach more towards
that of Schumann; altogether a well
played and enjoyable suite.
The Serenata, Op.34
(1878: 1883) is an early work. It is
a transcription of the composer's Suite
for Clarinet Op.10. It was reworked
at the grand old age of seventeen! So
we have a teenager's reworking of a
young lad's original. Busoni was at
that time more familiar with the clarinet
- his father was a well regarded player
- than the cello. However, the arrangement
seems to me to be convincing. It is
well constructed and balanced. The middle
section is a great contrast to the reflective
sections before and after. The work
ends with a review of this central section
which unifies the entire piece. A young
work, yes, but deserving of attention
simply because of its competence.
Ten Variations on a Finnish Folk Song
(1890) always held a special place in
Busoni's heart; it was in Helsinki that
he met his wife. The composer had already
made use of Finnish folk music in his
Finnlandische Volksweissen Op.27
in 1889. However this present music
is much more 'advanced' in its style
and presentation of the original theme.
This is one of those small works that
makes the listener glad to be able to
explore one of the byways of European
music and discover a hidden gem.
The last work on this
CD is an attractive transcription of
the Valse oubliée by Franz
Liszt. Once again we find the composer
splitting the two-handed version of
this famous piece into three. And once
again it is almost impossible to see
the join. It seems so natural. This
is a fascinating version of this work
and allows us to see it in a new light.
Certainly there is a feel of modernity
well beyond the year when the original
work was composed. It is a fine conclusion
to a very satisfying recital.
Duo Pepicelli, who
have been performing together since
1982 brings great skill and musicality
to the works of two of their most prominent
The CD sound is absolutely
great and the programme notes are good.
I just hope that Naxos keep on bringing
out works by this great Italian master.
A brief look at his catalogue shows
that there is still much to go at!