For his all-Busoni
programme, Murray McLachlan played on
a Seiler 208 Professional grand piano
that was, we are told, specially imported
from Germany for this opening concert
of the Fourth Chetham’s International
Summer School and Festival for Pianists.
This recording is no small achievement
– McLachlan manages to give more than
workable accounts of music that drips
with difficulties. That said, this is
not great playing and should be seen
as a pointer to greener Busoni-pastures.
Some passages seem awkward under McLachlan’s
fingers. He is at his best in the slower,
more languorous passages, or in parts
that require (preferably perfumed) delicacy,
facts that make his ‘Turandots Frauengemach’
a success, particularly the opening,
before the arrival of the theme that
listeners in the UK know as ‘Greensleeves’.
Thus it is that the
Bach/Busoni Chaconne only has hints
of the unstoppable, cumulative momentum
that lies at the work’s core.
on Themes from Carmen gained greatest
currency through John Ogdon’s wonderful
HMV recording. If McLachlan gives a
suggestion of difficulty at the opening
chatterings, the ‘L’amour est un poseau
rebelle’ emerges beautifully out of
a Busonian mist. This piece is great
fun, and McLachlan just needs to let
his hair down a little more.
The longest work by
far is the Fantasia Contrappuntistica
of 1910. McLachlan attempts the work’s
gravitas without actually achieving
it and, while moments of repose are
again appealing, they are not held in
the structural relief that is their
The recording seems
quite close and yet can blur on occasion;
try around 7’35 in to the Chaconne.
There is a soft edge that takes away
some immediacy. More depth of sound
would have been welcome, too, and just
near the end of the disc - 15 minutes
into the Fantasia Contrappuntistica
- there is some unattractive bloom on
the bass end. A pity as McLachlan clearly
believes in Busoni’s greatness without
being able to adequately project it.
The various works have
received, of course, recordings by much
better-known names. Brendel – 1953 –
and Ogdon in the Fantasia Contrappuntistica;
Petri, Steuermann and Arrau in the Carmen
Chamber-Fantasy; Busoni himself
(piano-roll), Michelangeli (1955, Warsaw),
Bolet and Demidenko in the Chaconne.
All with their own seeds of greatness.