The Busoni transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532
is masterful. Harden is expert at the more melting passages of
the Prelude. His more forthright passages - the very opening being
among them - can tend towards the literal. The recording precludes
any trace of harshness. The Fugue begins rather like an exercise
under Harden’s fingers, but builds to an imposing, magnificently
form excellent contrast. The restrained first, “Nach der Wendung”
meditates hypnotically on superbly ambiguous harmonies. No mistaking
the Italian flavour of “All’Italia!” – the world of Liszt’s
Venezia e Napoli is never far away here. The more expressionist
“Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir” is a prelude on a Lutheran
chorale that sees the original transformed into Busonian mysticism.
The famous “Turandots Frauengemach” (Intermezzo) uses the theme
we in the UK know best as “Greensleeves”. Richard Whitehouse’s
excellent notes refer to this as a “well-known and allegedly
‘Chinese’ tune”, presumably to keep the surprise for the first-time
listener. The shadowy waltz of “Die Nächtlichen” is magnificently
rendered here; the final elegy, “Erscheinung”, is less successful.
Harden takes its fragmentary questioning too far and the piece
ends up aimlessly disjunct until the final, tremolando-dominated
couple of minutes. The “seventh” Elegie was itself rewritten
and expanded into Berceuse élegiaque. The piece sounds
like a sort of Busonian Debussy.
to the Fantasia we hear here as a “translation” rather
than a transcription – implying there is at least as much Busoni
as there is Bach. And so it proves. The chorale “Christ, du
bist der Helle Tag” is treated to Busonian arpeggio decoration
before another chorale, “Gorres Sohn ist kommen” (aka “In dulci
jubilo”) appears, sweetly, quietly, but unmistakably. Finally,
“Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott” appears as a final arrival point.
The interaction between Bachian harmonies and Busonian ones
is fascinating – it is as if the music moves in and out of focus.
Finally, The Toccata
of 1920, written after Busoni’s return to Berlin. Contemporary
with his opera, Doktor Faust, it is clearly penned in
a more advanced idiom than anything we have heard so far on
the disc. It requires all of Harden’s virtuosity not only to
deliver the notes but also to bring across the multi-faceted
states of this tripartite piece (Preludio-Fantasia-Ciaccona).
In the latter stages, he feels a little pressed at times, but
this is a valuable account nonetheless.
Back in 2007,
I reviewed Volume
3 of this series: the Naxos Busoni series continues here
in enduringly fascinating fashion. There is the by-now standard
download available with every hard-copy purchase. In this case,
it is the first movement of Respighi’s Piano Sonata in F minor,
Op. 16 played by Konstantin Scherbakov, from 8.553704.