SCHUMANN: Humoreske; BUSONI: Fantasia Contrappuntistica – Jacob Greenberg, piano – New Focus

by | Feb 21, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

SCHUMANN: Humoreske, Op. 20; BUSONI: Fantasia Contrappuntistica (third version, 1912) – Jacob Greenberg, piano – New Focus Recordings 121, 56:13 ****:
Schumann dedicated his non-programmatic Humoreske to Julie von Webenau, a student of Mozart’s son Franz Xaver Wolfgang. The writer Jean Paul is said to be the inspiration for this piece, a solid masterpiece that challenges each artist who tackles it to not only negotiate the formidable technical requirements but also the emotional turns-on-a-dime. Greenberg is able to do this for the most part, though there are times when I feel he short-changes individual movements with a lack of intensity. It is an excellent performance, and he has a superb and colorful touch, but I find it just the slightest bit lacking.
Busoni’s massive Fantasia Contrappuntistica is a true neo-baroque piece based on Bach’s Art of Fugue. To describe it is actually fairly simple; take Bach’s baroque mechanisms and add some modern harmonies—this is pretty much it, and the results are quite impressive. Busoni created three versions, and neither the single-piano or duo-piano versions have fared that well on disc, even though some tremendous artists have taken it on. Greenberg is dead-on and gets everything just about right. While this piece is an easy one to overplay and intellectualize, Greenberg avoids this and portrays the work with real life and emotion. Okay, emotion may be overdoing it; it was not Busoni’s strong suit. But it was with Bach, and any sort of imitation bordering on flattery is bound to bring along a lot of human sentiment with it. Greenberg perceives this and is right on target. Sound is excellent, so if the program looks good, don’t hesitate.
—Steven Ritter

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