busoni orchestral chandos

Déjà Review: this review was first published in June 2005 and the recording is still available.

Ferrucio Busoni (1866-1924)
Lustspiel-Overtüre, Op. 38 (1897, rev; 1904)
Indianische Fantasie, Op. 44a (1913/14)
Indianisches Tagebuch, Book II – Gesang vom Reigen der Geister, Op. 47 (Elegie No. 4) (1915)
Die Brautwahl, Op. 45 (1912) – Suite
Nelson Goerner (piano)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 2004, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK
Chandos CHAN10302 [65]

A great success all round. What better way to start a Busoni disc than with the Lustspiel Overtüre (‘Comedy Overture’), this composer’s equivalent to Mozart’s Figaro Overture? Lustspiel bubbles away, busy and ever approachable. This sets the tone of the disc in performance terms. It is supremely confident from all concerned. String definition is exemplary; wind are pointed – the flute remarkably agile. Rhythmically on its toes, the work moves infectiously towards its bright and breezy C major conclusion, sweeping aside any clouds that might have fleetingly passed.

The Indian Fantasy is perhaps the most famous work on the disc, and for this Chandos has elicited the services of the young and talented Nelson Goerner. Just before World War I Busoni’s interest in the music of Native American Indians was growing, and he used their music as raw material for the present Fantasy – premiered by the composer with the Berlin Philharmonic in March 1914. The themes come from the music of the Hopi, Cheyenne, Laguna, Pima and (especially) the Hopi peoples. Busoni the mystic surfaces from time to time, spurred on the inherent pentatonicism of these tunes. All this is held within a broadly post-Lisztian remit, explicit mainly in the piano part, which here under Goerner’s fingers frequently sparkles. The Chandos recording is extraordinary in conveying both Goerner’s tonal richness and his exuberant virtuosity; try the cascades of notes around 7’50 in. The superb pianism on show in the cadenza finds Busoni moving further towards the mystic. Although called a Fantasy, this work has a real sense of logic and care in continuation of ideas.

The Gesang vom Reigen der Geister (‘Song of the Spirit Dance’) was described by the composer as a ‘study for strings, six wind instruments and one drum’. He referred to it as a ‘chorale prelude’, but its material is again culled from an external source – a Pawnee song connected with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Easy to hear the Chorale Prelude link from the quasi-liturgical atmosphere of the work’s opening. The piece possesses a wonderful sense of inevitability that is extremely well realised in the present instance.

Finally, the Suite from Busoni’s first opera, Die Brautwahl (‘The Bridal Choice’), premiered again by the Berlin Philharmonic, this time under Oskar Fried. There are five movements. The first movement (‘Spukhaftes Stuck’ – ‘Ghostly Piece’) has more than a touch of the playfulness of Sorcerer’s Apprentice about it. The second movement, ‘Lyric Piece’, is warm and lyrical. The recording really supports this warmth without losing any of the detail.

There is also a piano version of the ‘Mystisches Stück’ (‘Mystical Piece’) that makes up the third movement. Mystical? Well, it is dark, certainly. On a performance front, just listen to the care that went into the balancing of the wind chords around 2’20. There is a lovely, shadowy dance. The long melody of ‘Hebräisches Stück’ includes some lushness before the happy, spiky, sparkling finale. Here one can revel in the unanimity of the BBC Philharmonic’s playing; the brass in particular is marvellously together.

A simply superb disc.

Colin Clarke

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