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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Besotted with Busoni some more, 17 Feb 2011
John Ferngrove (Hants UK) - See all my reviews
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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. A Busoni fugue ducks and weaves, and takes you on a magic carpet ride to exotic locations before returning you to its starting point cleansed and invigorated, like a memorable Mediterranean holiday crammed into a few minutes. Of the remaining material on the disc Etude Op.17 is witty, intelligent, and hints at times to the modernity he flirted with but never succumbed to. The remaining items include a couple of juvenile bits that are cheerful but inconsequential. Fortunately they are brief enough not to distract from the momentum of the disc's overall sequence. In many ways Busoni was the Italian Rachmaninov; a late, late Romantic, borrowing colours from modernity for his palette but eschewing its methods and its ethos. If we substitute Tuscany for Novgorod, and a heart full of joy and the wonder of life for one broken by exile, then the comparison, it seems to me, is fair.

As I write this the machinery of the Royal Mail is hopefully grinding just fast enough to bring me the third volume, Busoni - Piano Music, Vol 3, in this delightful series in a not too distant future, a very nice prospect indeed.
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