The Busoni Concerto We’ve Been Waiting For

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Kirill Gerstein’s March 2017 collaboration with Sakari Oramo and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Busoni’s mammoth Piano Concerto generated both intense interest and ecstatic reviews. Two years later we can hear what all the fuss was about, for this recording, culled from those concerts, is the Busoni Concerto we’ve been waiting for, matching and often surpassing the 1989 Ohlsson/Dohnányi/Cleveland reference version.

The even numbered “Italian” Pezzo giocoso and Tarantella movements, for example, here benefit from faster tempos that impart a lighter, more effectively balletic quality to the music, along with the heightened tension of Gerstein’s inflections and accents. The same goes for the sprawling central Andante sostenuto, where the sweeping piano arpeggios supporting the woodwind writing unfold in a sweeping, forward moving manner that I prefer to the Ohlsson/Dohnányi’s relative gravitas. In the finale, the men of the Tanglewood Chorus are more prominent in the mix compared to their Cleveland counterparts, making a stronger, heftier impact. Nor does the coda let up in sheer energy and abandon.

As much as I admire Ohlsson’s rippling, full-bodied handling of the first movement’s massive keyboard textures, Gerstein shapes the bass lines with more palpable harmonic cogency. Moreover, both soloist and conductor bring an incisiveness and nervous energy to the dotted rhythm motive that prevails throughout the movement, serving up less stentorian goods as a result. In short, Gerstein and Oramo knock Busoni’s concerto off of its lofty pedestal with a vividly detailed yet fearless performance that is destined to become a standard bearer for future practitioners. Myrios includes an 87-page booklet with extensive texts and translations in both German and English, sealing my highest recommendation.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; Ohlsson/Dohnányi (Telarc)

  • Kirill Gerstein (piano)
  • Men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

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