This disc, well-recorded in Balzano’s Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Hall, divides itself equally between the music of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) and contemporary composer Paolo Troncon (b. 1959). Busoni was foremost a contrapuntalist in his own compositions, and his affinity for Bach’s music is traceable to his father’s influence. On the death of Ferdinando Busoni, Ferruccio composed his Fantasia in 1909, and one of its early recordings was by Egon Petri. Carlo Grante, a protégé of Ivan Davis and Rudolf Firkusny, applies a shimmering palette to this music, bringing out its debts to the organ fugues in A Minor and E-flat, likely by way of Franz Liszt.
The Prelude and Etude in Arpeggios (1923) contains allusions to the most devouring project in Busoni’s late career, his unfinished opera Doktor Faustus. Another influence seems to be Debussy’s own etude after the same manner. Like Bach, Busoni conceived of a Klavierubung in six books for prospective piano students. Many of the late works possess the “study” epithet, to assist the span and strength of the pianist’s fingers. Sometimes, as in the Trills Etude (1924, his last piece), a manic repetition sets in, a hint of obsession. The Perpetuum mobile (1922) extends Liszt’s diabolerie in its own, extravagant way. Music neither for the pure in heart nor the faint of finger dexterity.
Italian composer Troncon dedicated his Six Preludes and Fugues (1997) to Carlo Grante. The Preludes capture both airy and mordant aspects of improvisation, while the Fugues adhere to structural logic and predetermined formulae. Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C appears to be diatonic–only played on white keys–but it employs sudden dissonances and stretti which enrich its seven-stave texture. Acoustically vibrant, the piece has a learned, new-age sonority. Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Sharp ripples with nervous agitation over a pedal point. The six-part Fugue demands as much from the listener as the bedeviled Mr. Grante. Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in D starts off in the manner of Scriabin or Webern, tones dripping down from on high. Echoes of Petrushka? Ten pitches in harmonic series provide the basis for the staccato, pointillist fugue. Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in E has a nocturnal character, in its own quirky way. The tenor of the two parts pays homage to Shostakovich. The F Major opens with sixths reminiscent of Rachmaninov. The six-bar riff , however, won’t let up, and the piece sounds like Steve Reich. The Fugue is propelled by the same minimalist energies, colorful and a bit like Keith Jarrett. The last set, in B, utilizes the B-A-C-H figuration after a clever palindromic opening measure. The texture is thick, the mood threatening. The Fugue expands from three to nine parts, making me wonder if numerology from Dante doesn’t figure in Troncon’s baroque imagination.
— Gary Lemco