I have previously reviewed Volumes Three
of this Busoni series. Both received positive reviews, with a few minor caveats. I see nothing in the present disc to change this impression of this valuable Naxos enterprise. The recording - produced, engineered and edited by John Taylor - is more than acceptable.
The music of Busoni is demanding but rewards exploration. One hopes that his star is once more in the ascendant. The dark 1850 transcription of the Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” is magnificent. The piano’s burnished lower registers evoke the majesty of the King of Instruments, while Wolf Harden’s keening, almost reverent way with the contrasting plateaux is most effective. The extended (8:47) ruminations of the central Adagio are here almost trance-inducing; they serve to prepare for a Fugue that is a journey of technical rigour combined with huge technical demands. Harden meets all challenges head-on and fearlessly, according the resonant climax a stirring grandeur.
The Sonata in F minor is an early work. It is well crafted and finds a staunch advocate in Wolf Harden. Although grand, the first movement’s ideas do not quite justify its length - a touch under nine minutes. One can hear a questing voice here, one that enjoys counterpoint, but we are way off music that justifies regular revisits. The central Andante con moto is again rather low on inspiration, its harmonies rather too undifferentiated and veering into what we would now call easy listening. The introduction to the finale, in the manner of an improvisation, is certainly the most intriguing music so far in its unashamed use of disjointed gestures.
Immediately more sophisticated is the Prélude of the final work featured here, the late Prélude et étude en arpèges
. The level of craftsmanship is significantly raised. The inclusion of a transcription, an early and a late work is what makes this disc such a satisfying experience if heard all the way through at once.
I look forward keenly to future instalments.