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Dunelm recordings

Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Suite for Solo Violin in D minor, BWV1004 – Chaconne (Bach/Busoni, 1892) [16’33]. Elegien: Neue Klavierstücke, K249 – Turandots Frauen (1907/8) [3’49]. Chamber-Fantasy on Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, K284 (Sonatine No. 6, 1920) [8’47]. Fantasia Contrappuntistica, K255/6 (Edizione Definitiva, 1910) [29’02].
Murray McLachlan (piano)
Rec. Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, 22 Aug 2004. DDD
DUNELM DRD0232 [58’36]

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.

The Chamber-Fantasy 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 place

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.

Colin Clarke

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