It’s easy to write off Busoni as a Sunday composer, a virtuoso pianist who never really forged a distinctive style of his own. His work is certainly uneven but that shouldn’t put anyone off from sampling these delightful one-act operas. His Turandot invites inevitable comparisons with Puccini’s (written some 20 years later), but although Busoni too came from Italian stock, the two versions inhabit completely different aesthetic worlds. Busoni’s style is much more cosmopolitan – at times vaguely neo-classical (after the manner of early Prokofiev or late Strauss rather than Stravinsky), at others more darkly Romantic – and his overall concept is more intimate, closer to the commedia dell’arte traditions of Gozzi’s original play.
It’s a colourful and fast-moving score flavoured, like Puccini’s, with exotica (including the bizarre appearance of ‘Greensleeves’ at the beginning of Act II).
Arlecchino doesn’t perhaps exhibit quite the same freshness of inspiration in its construction (it relies more on spoken dialogue), but it still contains some scintillating music. There’s little to choose between the two recordings of Turandot: both put a strong case for the work, but no libretto is included with the Capriccio version. Antony Bye