FERRUCCIO BUSONI: Ein Lustspiel Overture, Song of the Spirit Dance, Rondo arlecchinesco, Clarinet Concertino, Divertimento for flute and small orch., Tanzwalzer – Giammarco Casani, clar./Laura Minguzzi, flute/Gianluca Terranova, tenor/Orch. Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia – Naxos 8.572922, 60:38 ****:
In many ways, the music of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was always just a little obscure. For much of his professional life he was known mainly as a stunning pianist and a very good conductor, having served as director of orchestras in Bologna as well as in Germany. Additionally, he was an archetypal composer-conductor at a time when Mahler was getting far more attention in a similar role.
The other “issue” with Busoni’s music was that – except for a much-acclaimed Piano Concerto and a somewhat controversial opera, Doktor Faustus – people had a little difficulty getting behind his music. His writing is mostly large scale and masterful but, at a time when Wagner, Verdi and Mahler helped to “define” national sounds, Busoni’s music seemed hard to categorize. It sounded to some like the native Italian trying to sound German; to others, it rambled and lacked distinction.
There has been a bit of a revival of Busoni’s music as of late. There has been a bit of a spate of recordings the past ten years and contemporary composers, such as John Adams, have been inspired by his swirling languid style and have arranged or alluded to Busoni’s music. So, the present recording is a pretty good way to introduce one’s self to this composer – plus a requisite hearing of the Piano Concerto.
The “Comedy Overture” is a rather Mozart-inspired work and is characteristically light, playful and fun to listen to. It is not intended to be incidental music to any particular play or story that research can verify but is a fairly early work that began as a moving away from Wagner-influenced styles and is quite entertaining. The Gesang vom Reigen der Geister (Song of the Spirit Dance) is quite different in tone. Busoni was inspired at the time by some American Indian (i.e.: Native American) mythologies and folklore and the work has an exotic sound to it. It is said that this piece is the third of what is viewed as a “trilogy” of elegiac works based on Indian themes that includes his Indian Fantasy for piano and orchestra and the “Indian Diary” for solo piano.
The Rondo arlecchinesco, scored for tenor and orchestra, is subtitled by Busoni as Elegie No.3. This is a bit of a sardonic sounding little foray that serves actually as the composer’s “test case” for his later one-act opera Arlecchino. The opera itself is a comedy although the tone of this “elegy” is a bit more serious. Tenor Gianluca Terranova has a big, clear voice and this is an attractive work. (Having the text at hand in the booklet notes would have been helpful.)
The two solo wind pieces herein are actually known pretty well-known to clarinet and flute players, respectively, but not so much to audiences at large. The Clarinet Concertino dates from 1918 and is a good example of the composer’s renewed interest in smaller forms and a classical sound (in contrast to the Violin Concerto and the Piano Concerto, for example) This is a fairly short and pleasant work that, in spite of its delicate sound, presents some technical challenges for the clarinetist that belie the relative simplicity of the accompaniment. A similar situation exists in the short charming Divertimento for flute and small orchestra. Another very classical-sounding work, there is plenty of interaction between the solo flute and the orchestra, almost in a concertante stye, with all winds having plenty to do. Here, too, the solo line is not overtly virtuosic but is challenging to be sure and is spritely in its tone. Both of these are very nice little works and soloists Giammarco Casani, clarinet, and Laura Minguzzi, flute, do a very fine job.
This fascinating collection closes with Busoni’s Tanzwalzer. Written “to the memory of Johann Strauss II”, this work does share some stylistic heritage to the waltz king but – as Richard Whitehouse points out in the booklet notes – there is a quirky humor throughout that is fairly typical of Busoni. In fact, the waltz does not really enter until after a sort of tongue-in-cheek pompous fanfare-like introduction.
I enjoyed all of these works, most particularly the wind solos. Busoni’s music is, still, a bit hard to describe and more than a little eccentric. However, his music certainly does deserve the renewed interest it is receiving. I think that hearing his Piano Concerto or the Violin Concerto is required to get a “complete” picture of what this composer was capable of. This collection is a very nice start, though, and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, under the baton of Francesco La Vecchia, plays very well and with appropriate style.
An excellent survey of a favorite Chopin genre…