Gounod, Saint-Sa‘ns, Moscheles & Busoni

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COMPOSERS: Gounod,Moscheles & Busoni,Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Challenge
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Bach After Bach
WORKS: Works by Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Moscheles & Busoni
PERFORMER: Lucia Swarts (cello), Leo van Doeselaar (piano), Niek van der Meij (harmonium)
What a curate’s egg this is – a promising premise compromised by a puzzling choice of repertoire, questionable musical decisions and a muddled booklet. No mention is made of the origins of Gounod’s (in)famous Méditation sur le 1er Prélude de JS Bach, an espièglerie that appeared in 1853 whose success was deplored by the composer. But at least we can hear the ‘original’ (even if the cello replaces the violin) with the rarely heard ‘second verse’ harmonium part. Saint-Saëns’s Suite sets out in a Bachian manner, its later orchestral version boasting a different and quite un-Bachian finale. There’s some attractive playing here, but it’s dogged by sluggish tempi. Two of Moscheles’s ten 1863 arrangements of Bach preludes, each repeated da capo with the cello swooping above and below, are pretty examples of Romanticised Bach. Busoni’s take on the great Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is fascinating – as much Busoni as Bach in the Fantasy, the Fugue faithfully followed in which the cello alternates between playmate and leader. It is played at a tortuously slow tempo. Busoni’s Kleine Suite (1886 and dedicated to the great Alwin Schröder – not that the booklet tells you) is jolly enough without apparently having any connection with Bach. Jeremy Nicholas