Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910) [34:16]
Seven Elegies (1908) [38:36]
Sandro Ivo Bartoli (piano)
rec. 11-12 March, 2011, Auditorium Enrico Caruso, Gran Teatro Giacomo Puccini,
Torre del Lago, Italy. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94223 [72:52]
Ferruccio Busoni is a difficult figure to pin down. Extremely influential, yet
he is hardly performed to the extent he deserves. His music is often adventurous
without being avant-garde in ways in which that of many of his contemporaries
was. Competent on the violin by the age of four and a veritable 'veteran' by
12, Busoni's first compositions date from the early 1870s, when he was as young
as six. With an amazing intellect, memory and an obviously sensitive disposition,
his father's wish to exploit the young prodigy and a dislike of the provincialism
of recently-unified Italy drove Busoni to Germany. There amid its wider musical
life he found greater satisfaction; though he never really took to the teaching
he was forced to do, nor to concert life.
It was the interpretation, an understanding of the essence of a composition,
that interested Busoni more than the technique of performing. He craved recognition
chiefly as a composer. In 1906 he published his famous Entwurf einer neuen
Äesthetik der Tonkunst ('Sketch of a new musical aesthetic') which
sought to provide practical - and in many ways surprisingly visionary - solutions
to what he saw as the limitations of Western music: bitonality, quarter tone
harmonics, a certain determination to follow musical ideas and phrasing regardless
The Seven Elegies which take up just over half of this CD were written
the following year as exempla of his theories; they were published in 1908 and
first performed to derision and opposition in 1909 by Busoni himself in Berlin.
There are half a dozen or so other recordings of the work, that on Philips (420740),
part of Geoffrey Douglas Madge's six hour Busoni piano marathon is perhaps the
easiest to recommend. This performance by Sandro Ivo Bartoli is calm, confident,
transparent and compelling. There are no surprises and the work progresses gently
It's essential that the subtleties of key - which key often changes within a
musical phrase - are observed but are neither overplayed nor taken for granted.
They must become an integral part of the music. The same goes for the various
genres pressed into service during the nearly forty minutes of music: barcarolle,
tarantella, chorale and so on. But, again, Bartoli avoids pastiche. Listen
to the energy with which he tackles Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir
[tr.3], the third Elegy). It's never forced, rushed, shouted about or pushed.
The nuances of shifting, shimmering tonality are brought out by this accomplished
pianist. Such use of suggestion by a Debussy or a Scriabin is clear and present.
Bartoli's pauses and completely controlled desire to pick up the melody - listen
to the delicacy of the tempi in the next Elegy, Turandots Frauengemach
[tr.4], which quotes Greensleeves too! - bring us fully into the world
in which Busoni believed, rather than have us marvel at its eccentricities,
as we might with Satie.
In other words, we're enjoying Busoni on his own terms, for his own sake - and
not Bartoli's - and at his own pace. We're not being given a gratuitous example
of Busoni's 'new theories' but valid music for all its innovation and simple
novelty. There is nevertheless an undemonstrative persuasion in the style of
the pianist, about whom the rather minimal leaflet from Brilliant says next
to nothing. In fact Bartoli was born in 1970 in Pisa, has a relatively wide
repertoire. Even so he has fewer currently available recordings than his scope
and the prizes he has won might suggest. By the end of the Seven Elegies,
Bartoli's restraint, delicacy and exactness are seen to have been contributing
in equal manner to the ethereal, almost elusive beauty which is present, yet
can hardly be named. The tonality of the final piece remains with the listener
for some time.
The CD begins with the almost as long Fantasia contrappuntistica, which
was written while Busoni was touring in the USA. Inspired by The Art of Fugue,
it underwent several changes in conception and execution but emerged with Busoni's
usual enthusiasm in four distinct versions. The second is the one presented
here - for solo piano. Again, although he was preoccupied with this music's
structure - an 'architectural' drawing of the Fantasia contrappuntistica
is reproduced in the leaflet - Bartoli ensures that we listen to the music as
music, not as conception. This is despite the fact that Busoni was at pains
to compose something where the strength of his grasp of counterpoint was beyond
doubt. Although Bartoli states that "There is … [no] doubt in my mind,
at least, that the Fantasia contrappuntistica is amasterpiece,
a work of mystical allure and visionary genius", not for a second does his playing
seek to proselytise - even implicitly. This is not music that gets the exposure
its enthusiasts believe it should. Rather Bartoli lets the generosity and breadth
of Busoni's vision convince us itself … and it does.
The acoustic on this CD is appropriate, clear, clean and entirely conducive
to the inward-looking yet completely open music about which Bartoli, for all
his restraint, is so enthusiastic. One is put in mind of Leslie Howard's Liszt.
If you're new to Busoni, feel you should get to know his innovations better,
or simply want a beautiful hour or so's piano music from a poorly lit corner
of the early twentieth century, try this CD.
Two neglected strong explorations from the neglected Busoni played with great
expression and conviction.