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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
The Late Works
Sonatina Seconda (1912) [9:03]
Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude (1922) [9:42]
Six Elegies (1908) [36:07]
Svetlana Belsky (piano)
rec. 2018, PianoForte Studios, Chicago

This new recording by Svetlana Belsky raises a couple of questions, mainly as to why ‘Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude’; yes, I know Marc-André Hamelin calls it the same, but even the Peters Edition printed score calls it Ten Variations on a Chopin Prelude. Also why record only the first six of the Seven Elegies – where is the Berceuse? – after all there is plenty of time left to include it!

The disc begins with the Sonatina Seconda, the second of the Six Sonatinas, which is probably the most difficult and challenging of the six; it was composed “senza tonalità”, without a key signature or tonality, and contains no bar lines. It contains some references to Budsoni’s opera Doktor Faust which is reflected in the dark sonorities he employs in this “perhaps his greatest piano masterpiece.” as Svetlana Belsky describes it in her notes.

The ‘Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude’ is in fact a complete reworking of the composer’s ‘Variations and a Fugue on the celebrated Prelude in C minor’ (Op 28 No 20), composed in 1884. Part of the revision consisted of reducing the original eighteen variations to just ten, and here is where we explain the discrepancy between this and some other recorded versions, as in the second edition of this work, Busoni reduced the variations further by dropping the ‘Fantasy’ section in 1925, and it is this version, in common with Marc-André Hamelin (CDA67951/3), that seems to be recorded here.

When it comes to the ‘Elegies’, Svetlana Belsky offers the original six that were completed in late 1907 and published the following year. The ‘Berceuse’, the seventh of the ‘Elegies’, was not composed until 1909, and is thus omitted from this recording. Described by the composer as signifying “a milestone in my development”, with each being dedicated to one of his pupils, including Egon Petri. In his ‘Elegies’ Busoni often includes music based upon his own earlier compositions, including his Piano Concerto in the Second, and music from the Suite he derived from the opera Turandot in the Fourth and Fifth, including his version of ‘Greensleeves’, where Belsky is particularly good.

I have enjoyed this performance by Svetlana Belsky, and whilst it might not replace Marc-André Hamelin’s more comprehensive set of the late piano music, it does make a fine single-disc alternative to his three-disc set. Her tempos tend to be a little quicker than Hamelin’s, which at times makes for a more exciting performance; only in the ‘Nine Variations’ and a couple of the ‘Elegies’ is Belsky slower, though she is in no way ponderous. She is recorded well, although her piano is a little more reverberant than Hamelin’s and I tend to prefer the extra brightness we get from the Hyperion recording. The presentation is obviously the way ahead, a very slimline gatefold cardboard cover, with the disc slipped in one side and the notes in the other, the only plastic here is the disc itself. It is only a couple of milometers thick, so carfeul shelving is called for lest you misplace it, as I have already done once so far! There is also a link on the back cover to “Additional Album Content” which seems to be slightly extended booklet information and a chance to sample the Sonatina Seconda.

Stuart Sillitoe

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