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Busoni, F.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Harden) - Bach - Chaccone / Variations And Fugue On Chopin's Prelude In C Minor

Busoni, F.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Harden) - Bach - Chaccone / Variations And Fugue On Chopin's Prelude In C Minor

2 Nov 2001

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 2 Nov 2001
  • Label: Naxos
  • Copyright: (C) 2001 Naxos
  • Total Length: 1:08:56
  • Genres:
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 578,257 in MP3 Albums (See Top 100 in MP3 Albums)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 17 Feb 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
If you're contemplating the second volume of the formidably competent Wolf Harden's Naxos Busoni series, then it could well be that you have tried volume 1, Busoni - Piano Music, Vol. 1, and liked it so much that you're wondering if a second could be so good. Well, if so, purchase with confidence, because if anything it's better. The two main features are the transcription of the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No.2 for solo violin, and the theme, variations and extraordinary fugue on Chopin's famous Op.22 C minor Prelude. Both are vast musical worlds in which the ceaseless flow of invention remains gripping from first to the last. I am a big fan of the Bach solo violin works, being absolute miracles of form and judgement of the possibilities of their intended instrument. Yet I find myself here on the verge of blasphemy in considering that Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne night be objectively `better', in the way that a great cathedral is better than a country church. It is certainly incomparably richer, and few, except perhaps old Bach himself, would suspect that such grandeur could be spun from the poignant humility of the original. With the Theme and Variations on the Chopin prelude I find myself reminded of Ashkenazy's very fine recording of Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations, both in musical structure and style, and in terms of Harden's glittering pianism. He is one of those pianists who can tease many seemingly fresh sound worlds from an instrument we think we know so well. The fugue that completes it is vast but without sprawling in the way that so many fugues do. A Busoni fugue is more than a baroque gesture, building relentlessly to an inevitable climax.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Der Busoni" 18 July 2007
By Hexameron - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was universally appreciated as a genius with the piano. His style of playing and the ideas he developed in his compositions enable him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Godowsky as a transcendental pianist-composer. Yet today the name "Busoni" is too often linked, literally by a hyphen, with "Bach," owing to the many transcriptions Busoni created. There are countless recordings of these Bach transcriptions, but few actual volumes exist that explore Busoni's original music. Naxos has fixed this, and with the talents of Wolf Harden, Busoni's early piano works are unveiled and championed.

I'm sure there might be some recordings of these Busoni juvenilia pieces, but I couldn't pinpoint them; they are rare. Obviously the Bach-Busoni Chaconne has been done enough, but Harden doesn't shine in his execution. Compared to the artistry and passion of Kissin, Say, or Michelangeli, Harden's playing seems bogged down, rigid, and even emotionally detached. My five star rating is not affected by this, though, because Harden recovers with his wondrous interpretations of the other pieces. The "Etude en forme de variations" was written in 1884 and reveals Busoni's early contrapuntal mastery and Romantic idiom. Richard Whitehouse, the liner-notes writer, summarizes the work sufficiently as possessing a "studious, slightly melancholic theme... succeeded by eight variations, ranging from the grotesque to the elegiac..." Busoni's Variations on "Kommt ein Vogel geflogen" are based on a song that supposedly parodies various composers of the centuries. Busoni's variations are quite chameleonlike, imitating with much success the aesthetics of Scarlatti, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Wagner.

The Variations in C major Op. 6 dates from 1873 and was written when Busoni was merely seven years old. It is admittedly light, yet somehow charming, and Whitehouse observes that the "vibrant finale recalls Beethoven's early sets of variations." Following this in 1874 is the Op. 12 "Inno variations," another ordinary work in which Whitehouse chooses to compliment the "limpid Schubertian quality of the initial theme." The principal work and true masterpiece here is Busoni's "Variations and Fugue on Chopin's Prelude in C minor Op. 22." Busoni later rewrote this work and edited its eighteen variations down to only nine. Fortunately, Naxos and Harden present the original eighteen variations and fugue (reaching 30 minutes) in all its glory. Comparable to Rachmaninov's Variations of the same Prelude, Busoni explores a vast range of pianistic devices, technical possibilities, compositional ideas, and emotional states. Unlike Rachmaninov, Busoni strives toward an intellectual quasi-meditative outcome, culminating in the mind-blowing fugue. David Dubal calls this epic work "masterly in style, a superb mixture of melodic, harmonic, and polyphonic variation technique. This rigorous work is piano writing of genius and should be better known."

Bottom line: Although the early Variations featured here lack the qualities of Busoni's deeper Elegies and Sonatinas, the "Etude en forme de variations" and massive "Variations and Fugue on Chopin" are impressive conceptions and titanic forces of pianism. The scholar and pianist Gunnar Johansen once said of Busoni: "He outshone all others. In Germany, we didn't speak of Mr. Busoni, we spoke of Der Busoni, as if he were a monument." Beyond the man himself, there is a monumental nature and magnitude in Busoni's "Variations and Fugue on Chopin" that will later recur in the majestic Fantasia Contrappuntistica and Piano Concerto.
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