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Bach • Busoni

Jan Michiels (piano) (Fuga Libera)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

JS Bach * Busoni
JS Bach (arr. Busoni): Chaconne aus der Partita, BWV 1004, Zehn Choralvorspiele; Busoni: Fantasia Contrappuntistica
Jan Michiels (piano)
Fuga Libera FUG 760   69.40 mins


To say that Busoni was multi-talented would be a rank understatement. As a pianist he began as a child prodigy and had a wide-ranging career as a soloist and accompanist, but his questing mind also led to landmark writings on aesthetics and the future of music. His compositions were similarly audacious, including five operas and a vast piano concerto with male chorus. Central to his self-image as a creative artist was his veneration of Bach, whose work he viewed as fundamental to European music.

Reflecting his own abilities and enthusiasms, the Ten Chorale Preludes by Bach for piano are less an arrangement of these familiar works than a realisation of the colorific possibilities of the organ, with its different registrations and manuals, for the piano. Jan Michiels plays the Preludes with admirable flexibility and in some, notably ‘Wachet auf’, an almost Baroque-like approach to articulation. The Preludes are performed on a Bechstein piano of 1860 with straight, parallel stringing. The sound can at times be on the brittle side but also, as in ‘Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland’, beautifully veiled.

For the Fantasia Contrappuntistica of 1910 – Busoni’s highly personal reaction to Bach’s Art of Fugue, arranged in 12 movements culminating in a brilliant stretto – Michiels uses a modern piano built by Chris Maene, though again with straight, parallel strings. The clarity of sound – captured in an excellent recording – is admirable revealing a great deal of the multi-layered detail while Michiels proves an expert guide through Busoni’s often eccentric soundworld. Jan Smaczny