Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Eine Lustspielouvertüre, Op 38 [7:05]
Gesang vom Reigen der Geister, Op 47 [7:39]
Rondò arlecchinesco, Op 46 [12:58]
Clarinet Concertino in B flat, Op 48 [11:59]
Flute Divertimento, Op 52 [8:55]
Tanzwalzer, Op 53 [12:00]
Giammarco Casani, clarinet (concertino); Laura Minguzzi, flute (divertimento); Gianluca Terranova (tenor) (rondò)
Rome Symphony Orchestra/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 7-8 December 2008 (Opp 38, 46) and 27-28 March 2011 (Opp 48, 52), Auditorium Conciliazione; 13-17 May 2011, ORS Studios (Opp 47, 53), Rome, Italy
NAXOS 8.572922 [60:34]
Here’s an album to correct misconceptions. I always thought of Ferruccio Busoni as a very serious, somewhat dour composer, maybe because he lavished so much time on transcriptions and arrangements of Bach, and maybe because on top of that his most performed original works are the Berceuse elégiaque, the Fantasia contrappuntistica, and the massive hour-long Piano Concerto. My mistake! This is the lighter, wittier side of Busoni, and it is a truly delightful CD.
Proceedings begin with the Lustspielouvertüre, a seven-minute piece that’s as effective and fizzy a show-opener as the pop of a champagne cork. The tunes are memorable, the sudden turn to minor key in the middle is a stroke of dexterity, and the concluding reprise is a delight. It’s a simply fantastic little piece, which in style pays homage to the Mozartian era but in orchestration is very much a high-romantic showcase. It might be the highlight of the CD.
Next up is the Gesang vom Reigen der Geister (Song of the Dance of the Spirits), a rather spooky Native-American-inspired piece with an especially enigmatic beginning. The Rondò arlecchinesco which follows can be described with no other word but “mad”: there are zany twists and turns of spirit, odd martial elements, and then everything’s capped off by a wacky vocalise from a tenor. I have absolutely no idea what Busoni was thinking when he wrote it, but it must be one of the all-time masterpieces of attention-deficit looniness.
The next two pieces are for solo winds and orchestra: a clarinet concertino and a flute divertimento. The clarinet soloist enters immediately with a pastoral theme which occupies the players for four well-developed minutes. Then a horn solo kicks off a slower episode which gradually builds in action and liveliness until the ending, which reminds us of Busoni’s love for the classical era. The flute divertimento has a deceptive orchestral introduction which features significant orchestral solos for all the other winds plus trumpet, until the flautist finally enters at 1:32. From then on it’s a charmer with vigor and a mostly quick pulse, the flute dancing about the orchestral accompaniment. Both Giammarco Casani on clarinet and Laura Minguzzi on flute do the music full justice, although the incredibly close miking gives us an ear to all their instruments’ clicks and makes Casani’s tone sound a little more shrill than it probably is.
The CD ends with the Tanzwalzer, for which I can think of no better description than “Ravel’s La valse without the irony.” The glitz, glamour, orchestral heft, and high spirits are all there, but not the undercurrent of savagery, nor the shock ending. Busoni’s homage is obviously more loyal; indeed the work is dedicated “to the memory of Johann Strauss.” That said, it still encapsulates the wit, free spirit, and orchestral brilliance that runs through this whole disc.
To sum up: all immensely attractive music, running from an overture that deserves to be a pops and radio megahit through a truly nonsensical rondo to two wonderful mini-concertos. Nothing here is very serious at heart, but it’s all astonishingly well-done. Aside from Martucci’s Tarantella and a few bits of Casella, this is my favorite discovery so far in Naxos’ Italian Classics series; the woodwind soloists are closely spotlit and the sound is a bit crude but suits the music’s vivaciousness. The Rome Symphony and Francesco La Vecchia give high-spirited performances which are very confident indeed, and a booklet note is highly informative, although the descriptions of the music leave little to the imagination. An early-1990s CPO album is more or less the only competition. In summary: wonderful.
Brian Reinhart 

A wonderful raft of discoveries from Busoni’s lighter side. Maybe my favorite album so far in the Naxos Italian Classics series.