Busoni was one of the
most important musicians of his generation:
as composer, pianist, theorist, writer
and teacher. He was among the finest
pianists of a period rich in fine pianists,
and his compositions for his own instrument
inevitably lie at the centre of his
Like so many of the
great pianist-composers, Busoni was
profoundly aware of the legacy of the
masters, and wished to bring that legacy
before a wider public at the same time
as providing a vehicle for his own creativity
as a composer and virtuosity as a performer.
A good deal of this music is hardly
known, and Holger Gröschöpp’s
second volume is a labour of love that
responds to the demands of the music
as a challenge to the performer, at
the same time as putting it once again
in the limelight.
This particular programme
is dominated by two major and challenging
pieces: the ‘contrapuntal fantasy on
Bach’s last and unfinished work’, and
the reworking for piano of the organ
masterpiece Liszt composed on the chorale
Ad nos, ad salutarem undam.
This music is challenging
for all concerned, including the listener.
Over a twenty-minute span Busoni works
his Bach material in a manner which
is inspired by his reverence for Bach’s
genius, but which is also very much
his own at the same time. The results
are somewhat mixed, the musical line
struggling to be maintained in a complex
of dense counterpoint and earnest climaxes.
To what extent a different performance
would clear the way it is hard to tell,
but it would seem churlish to lay blame
at the feet of the pianist rather than
to acknowledge particular demands of
the earnest intensity of the composer
on this particular occasion. To complete
Bach’s final, unfinished fugue is one
of the greatest challenges confronting
The piano version of
the Liszt organ piece is altogether
more satisfying, since it captures both
the spirit and the detail of the original,
while also cleaning the textures to
allow details to make a telling point.
This is an ambitious work, and was also
so in Liszt’s original. Busoni’s love
and understanding of it are communicated
with some conviction by the pianist
and the recording engineers. This is
probably the highlight of the disc.
Again I have mixed
feelings about the shorter items. The
slow movement of Mozart’s ‘Jeunehomme’
Piano Concerto (No. 9 in E flat major,
K271) is a beautifully judged piece
in its original form, but Busoni’s transcription
seems unduly heavy and fussy, by turns.
Perhaps a lighter touch in the articulation
of dynamic shadings might have been
possible, but one is reminded of the
Emperor’s comment to Mozart: ‘Too many
notes’. And on this occasion many of
them were not necessary.
There is room for charm
also in Busoni’s response to some music,
such as Offenbach’s famous Barcarolle
and, at the other extreme, the Scherzo
from Novácek’s String Quartet.
A string quartet might have been unpromising
material for a piano transcription in
lesser hands, but Busoni’s version is
most effective. The clarity of the recording
is another advantage, Equally the short
items by Liszt, Mozart (from Don
Giovanni) and Bach (Widmung)
are all enjoyable, proving perhaps that
in the art of transcription brevity
is generally an advantage.
himself writes the insert notes, and
these are extensive and informative,
though it is a pity that there is no
date given for the version of Liszt’s
great organ masterpiece.