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Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Busoni – the Visionary Volume II
The Six Sonatinas:-

Sonatina No. 1
Sonatina No. 2, `Sonatina seconda'
Sonatina No. 3, `ad usum infantis'
Sonatina No. 4, `in diem Nativitas Christi MCMXVII'
Sonatina No. 5, `Sonatina brevis in signo Joannis Sebastiani Magni'
Sonatina super Carmen [Fantasia on Bizet's 'Carmen']
Toccata in C major for Organ BWV 564 transcribed by BUSONI
Jeni Slotchiver (piano)
Recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, September 2002
CENTAUR CRC 2681 [68.29]

This is the second volume in Jeni Slotchiver’s Busoni series (see Busoni the Visionary). Before I begin I should mention her outstanding booklet notes, which read as well as they delve widely, and are a model of their kind. That shouldn’t be altogether surprising since she has devoted a great deal of her musical energies into propagating Busoni and in the first volume of this series she served notice of her credentials.

Here she presents the six Sonatinas and the Bach-Busoni Toccata in C major. It’s certainly not the first time that the six have been presented in this way – Roland Pöntinen has done it for CPO for instance - and it does make, given the nature of the works, for wide-ranging listening. If we concentrate on three of them, the Third, the Fourth and the Sixth we can appreciate the level of Slotchiver’s involvement and immersion in Busonian rhetoric. The Third has considerable lyricism and simplicity in her hands; she tends to be more ruminative and less draconian than a Busoni student such as Michael von Zadora for instance, to take one historical example; the same is true, though to a considerably lesser extent when it comes to Petri’s 1938 recording but von Zadora is nearly two minutes faster than Slotchiver’s 7.23. I particularly admired the graceful seriousness of her way with the fugal section.

The level of introspection, bell tolls and the strong internal contrasts are all brought out in the Fourth. Clarity is paramount here as is the quality of "veil" and a sense of mysterious interiority. Zadora is considerably more incisive and less inclined to highlight lyricism and maintains his average of stripping two minutes off Slotchiver’s timing. In the Carmen Sixth, where Zadora and Petri almost agree on a tempo, we find that what Sorabji called the sense of transformation is most abruptly conjured by the more incisive performances. Zadora is certainly a supercharged presence – sometimes uncomfortably so – but Petri brings out the chorale implications better than anyone. Here Slotchiver takes a rather leisurely nine minutes or so (contrast Petri’s 6.31). The Toccata is convincingly though maybe not magisterially conveyed but it does round off the disc with understandable grandeur.

The sound is very slightly cramped in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City but it doesn’t seriously impair enjoyment of an authoritative series of performances. There will be those who perhaps find her too circumspect and at pains to stress the more horizontal aspects of Busoni’s writing but the element of melancholy she evokes is certainly true to Busonian emotional topography.

Jonathan Woolf

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