Fascinating Piano Music by the Young Busoni

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Listen to any of the selections on this disc without knowing the composer’s identity, starting with a set of 24 Preludes that follow Chopin’s key structure. At first you’ll think that the A-flat major resembles Grieg’s content dressed up in Schumann’s keyboard idiom. Or you’ll wonder if the toccata-like piece in E-flat major is a Schubert finale on steroids, or perhaps Alkan rewriting the finale of Beethoven’s Op. 54 sonata. What about that strange, fugal G minor piece? Is that one of Anton Reicha’s 36 piano fugues? The D-flat Prelude is even harder to pin down. It bears tinges of Chopin, albeit Chopin filtered through the young Scriabin who is palpitating less than usual.

Then play the six character pieces that make up Macchiette medioevali. One movement called “Guerriero” features march tunes that are sometimes simplistic and naïve yet still manage to veer off onto quirky harmonic paths. The final “Trovatore” is even more fascinating. It begins with declamatory rolled chords (think of the Schumann C major Fantasy’s central movement) that eventually accompany a strange melody that never quite settles. After a while you begin to appreciate the assured piano writing and the obviously caring, methodical performances.

But who’s the composer? Would you believe Ferruccio Busoni at around age 14? Evidently the teenaged Busoni already was rewriting other people’s music in his own image with variable success. Wolf Harden’s clean, refined, and fully committed pianism makes the best case for these early works on disc, along with Naxos’ fine engineering and Richard Whitehouse’s accurate, perceptive booklet annotations.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Busoni Piano Music, Vol. 8

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