Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Piano Music - Volume 5
BACH/BUSONI Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV552, “St Anne” (transc. c.1890) [13:56]
BUSONI Six Etudes, Op. 16 (1883) [22:22]; Six Pieces, Op. 33b (1895/96) [24:22]; Ten Variations on Chopin’s C minor Prelude (revised 1922 version of Op. 22) [12:48]
Wolf Harden (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 7-8 October 2007
NAXOS 8.570891 [73:28]

See also review by Bob Briggs

The grandeur of the Bach “St Anne” Prelude and Fugue is writ large in Wolf Harden’s performance of the Busoni transcription. So much so that, while one may be aware of the origins of the piece, one hardly misses the sound of the organ. Harden captures the tower of sound, as well as the slithering counterpoint. This is a tremendous reading in which Harden impeccably characterises the various sections with a wide variety of touch.

The first Etude of Op. 16 is identifiably Brahmsian, with its active bass octaves. Elements of a somewhat speedier (Brahms) Op. 118/6 seem inherent in the Busoni to the present writer. Harden’s staccato in the ensuing Allegro moderato Etude is a joy - he maintains the tone (and, when required, heaviness) in each note. Yet the - again Brahmsian - mellifluous central section reveals another side to Busoni, the mysterious. Harden’s playing is consistently idiomatic, both here and elsewhere on the disc. The Fuga (the fifth Etude) is Busoni through and through - uncompromising, granitic sonorities.

The Six Pieces, Op. 33b are immensely strong compositions. The first, “Schwermut” (Melancholy) has some characteristically trans-keyboard writing yet in ethos seems close to late Liszt. In complete contrast, “Frohsinn” (Gaiety) is utter delight, as is the Scherzino that follows. Salon music par excellence, both. Perhaps Harden could have been that bit lighter and more playful in the Scherzino. The fourth and fifth pieces both last over six minutes each. The fourth is a “Fantasia in modo antico” and begins with much restrained grandeur, drawing a tone of burnished ebony from Harden. The fugal writing is determined and relentless - but this is at speed, in contrast to the tread of the earlier part. The “Finnische Ballade” is magnificently pedal-soaked and atmospheric. Moments of grittiness are juxtaposed with moments of frozen, Mussorgskian serenity. The challenges of the finale are admirably met by Harden.

The 1922 version of the Chopin Variations (the original was also reviewed here) begins in the shadowiest manner possible before the Chopin steals in. The revesion to the opening atmosphere at the first opportunity is telling - this is Chopin being absorbed into Busoni, not merely varied. Harden seems to relish the explorations as well as the way Busoni viscerally enlarges the Chopin original. Tremendous.

A worthy volume in the Naxos Busoni series.

Colin Clarke

A worthy volume in the Naxos Busoni series.