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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Complete Works for Cello and Piano

Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BMV 903 (transcription from J.S. BACH)
Kleine Suite (Little Suite), Op.23 (Kind. 215)
Serenata Op.34 (Kind.196)
Kultaselle: Ten Variations on a Finnish Folk song (Kind.237)
Valse oubliée (transcription of Franz LISZT)
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Adagio con variazioni
Duo Pepicelli: Angelo Pepicelli, piano; Francesco Pepicelli, cello
Rec. Montevarchi, Italy, 19th -21st January 2000
NAXOS 8.555691 [67.52]


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 to Wolf-Ferrari!

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.

The Kultaselle: 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 countrymen.

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!

John France



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