BUSONI: Late Piano Music [TrackList follows] – Marc-André Hamelin, piano – Hyperion (3 CDs)

BUSONI: Late Piano Music [TrackList follows] – Marc-André Hamelin, piano – Hyperion CDA67951/3 (3 CDs), 195:54 [12/1/13] [Distr. Harmonia mundi] *****:

Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was a multifaceted phenomenon who composed, transcribed, conducted, wrote and taught music during that period of transition when Romantic music gave way to late Romantic music and its modern off-shoots.

He made only a few recordings acoustically and not all of them survive. However, he also made many piano rolls. Of course, neither system provided an accurate sound picture of what his piano playing was really all about.

We are left with Busoni’s own compositions. Marc-André Hamelin has done a great service to the music world with this three-CD set, collecting in one place  most of the composer’s mature works. Hamelin combines spectacular technique with a clear and immediate understanding of this music. A detailed listing of what Hamelin plays follows at the end of this review. You would be hard put to find recordings of most of these pieces, and it would be a rare day to hear them in concert.

For example, the first disc has some music Busoni used otherwise, namely in his monumental Piano Concerto (Elegy No. 2 All’Italia!) and his opera Turandot (Elegy No. 4 Turandots Frauengemach). The second elegy employs music from the second and fourth movements of the piano concerto. Incidentally, Hamelin has a splendid recording of the piano concerto (Hyperion CDA67143).

The fourth and fifth elegies employ music from the orchestral (and choral) Turandot Suite which was the forerunner of Busoni’s opera. The melody in the fourth elegy is known also as Greensleeves which Busoni apparently was not familiar with.

Busoni was born in Florence, Italy, in 1866 and died in Berlin in 1924. Busoni became thoroughly immersed in German culture. He was noted for his arrangements and variations, several of which are in this set. He freely adapted from various compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederick the Great, Georges Bizet, Frederic Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Busoni was also interested in American Indian music which he used in several works.

There is a certain ambiguity in Busoni’s creations. A remarkable creation himself of the 19th century and full-blown romanticism, Busoni’s music looks backward, but at the same time looks to the future. It is quite accessible and entertaining, as well as thought-provoking.

As to be expected with Hyperion Records, the recording is of the highest quality and state-of-the-art for CD. There is a multilingual (English, French and German) booklet with numerous photos of Busoni from youth to old age. This set is recommended for Busoni followers and others ready to step into new waters.


Disc 1:  
Elegies, BV249 (1907–9)
No. 1 Nach der Wendung (Recueillement)
No. 2 All’Italia! (In modo napolitano)
No. 3 Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir (Choralvorspiel)
 No. 4 Turandots Frauengemach (Intermezzo)
No. 5 Die Nächtlichen (Walzer)
No. 6 Erscheinung (Notturno)
No. 7 Berceuse
Nuit de Noël, BV251 (1908)
Fantasia after J S Bach, BV253 (1909)
Canonic Variations and Fugue (on the Theme by King Frederick the Great), from 
J S Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’, BV B40 (1916)
Giga, bolero e variazione Book 3 of An die Jugend, BV254 (1909)
Disc 2:
Sonatina, BV257 (1910)
Sonatina seconda, BV259 (1912)
Sonatina ‘ad usum infantis Madeline M* Americanae’  Sonatina No 3, BV268 (1915)
Sonatina ‘in diem nativitatis Christi MCMXVII’ Sonatina No 4, BV274 (1917)
Sonatina brevis ‘in signo Joannis Sebastiani Magni’ Sonatina No 5, BV280 (1918)
Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen Sonatina No 6, BV284 (1920)
Indianisches Erntelied (1911)
Indianisches Tagebuch Book 1, BV267 (1915)
Three Albumleaves, BV289 (1917, 1921, 1921)
Disc 3:
Toccata : Preludio, Fantasia, Ciaccona, BV287 (1920)
Prologo, BV279 (1918)
from Klavierübung (second edition, 1925)
Preludio: Allegro festivo from Book 2 ‘On scale-derived forms’
Preludio (without the third finger): Moderato alla breve from Book 5 ‘Trills’
Veloce e leggiero from Book 5 ‘Trills’
Vivace moderato, con precisione from Book 6 ‘Staccato’
Variations-Studie nach Mozart, 1 [Serenade from Don Giovanni] from Book 6 ‘Staccato’
Motive: Allegro risoluto from Book 6 ‘Staccato’
Allegro from Book 6 ‘Staccato’
Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude (in C minor, Op 28 No 20), BV213a (1922; Klavierübung, second edition, 1925, Book 8)
Seven Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing, BV296 (1923; Klavierübung, second edition, 1925, Book 9)
Perpetuum mobile, BV293 (1922; Klavierübung, second edition, 1925, Book 9)
Prélude et étude en arpèges, BV297 (1923)
—Zan Furtwangler

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