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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Zwei Lieder (1879-90) [6:43]
Album Vocale (1880-4) [14:42]
Zwei altdeutsche Lieder (1884) [3:45]
Hebräische Lieder (1884) [7:47]
Zwei Lieder (1885) [6:34]
Der Sängers Fluch (1878) [17:34]
Goethe-Lieder (1918-1924) [10:19]
Reminiscenza Rossiniana (1924) [1:39]
Martin Bruns (baritone); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. Munich, September 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557245


In his time he was more famous as a performer and the only one of his compositions to have reached some level of general public awareness is his piano concerto. To judge Busoni’s skill as composer purely on that, though, would be similar to making a judgement about Beethoven based solely on the ninth symphony. Of course the two works have a chorus and outsized proportions in common, but as compositions they are hardly representative of their authors. So what, you could ask, is representative of Busoni the composer? Do his songs qualify in any way?
In all my years attending vocal recitals, I cannot recall ever having heard a song by Busoni. This recording, unfortunately, gives me a good reason why that could be the case. Put simply, they are, in the majority, juvenilia. That said, this selection of eighteen from over forty completed songs is enough to give one an idea of Busoni’s compositional diversity in the genre.
Whilst some of them show a little precociousness in handling text, the vocal line often remains in the shadows of the piano part when it comes to complexity and assurance. The early songs show the dominating influence of other composers as one might reasonably expect, and Brahms figures fairly highly on the list. Although the language changes to Italian on occasion, the idiom remains absolutely German in spirit.
It seems that in the end the pianist within Busoni always wins out. If his songs are not representative of the composer then, are we left with his virtuoso piano opera paraphrases as the only ‘true’ Busoni works?  Other Naxos releases suggest not, with violin and cello sonatas, the suites from his operas Turandot and Doktor Faust also available to explore. The operas, though, are better when heard in their full format. Of the piano works themselves, I would recommend the Fantasia Contrappuntistica as the most involved and involving, being in effect a lengthy meditation on Bach across a variety of means.
With passable but hardly world-beating performances this release is only for those fully intent on exploring a by-way of lieder repertoire. 
Evan Dickerson


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