Busoni: Piano Music, Vol. 2: Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor; Transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor

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COMPOSERS: Busoni
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Music, Vol. 2: Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor; Transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor
PERFORMER: Wolf Harden (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555699
This disc maintains the high standards set by Harden in his first volume of Busoni piano music. It begins with an unusually eloquent and beautifully shaped rendition of one of the most famous of all the ‘Bach-Busoni’ transcriptions. There are finer accounts of the D minor Chaconne (Ronald Stevenson on Altarus, for instance), but not many. Otherwise the disc is devoted to early works (some very early indeed) in variation form. The two juvenile variation sets (written at ages seven and eight and never before recorded) are as slight yet precocious as one might expect. But the witty 1886 Variations on ‘Kommt ein Vogel geflogen’ (in the manner of Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Wagner and Scarlatti) is not, as Naxos claims, a premiere recording – there’s one on Capriccio by Ira Maria Witoschynskyj, issued three years ago.

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The Op. 17 Étude en forme de variations which Busoni dedicated to Brahms is impressive and resourceful, but like everything else on the disc it’s dwarfed by the highly ambitious Prelude and Fugue on Chopin’s C minor Prelude composed in 1884-5. Busoni eventually came to consider this half-hour work as a ‘youthful excess’ and in 1922 produced the recomposed, slimmed-down version which is more often recorded. Yet the original, the classic of the form between the Brahms Handel Variations and the Reger Bach Variations, is a splendid demonstration of his awesome compositional and pianistic powers aged 18, and Harden’s account is the clear current benchmark, displacing Geoffrey Douglas Madge’s 1987 Philips recording. Calum MacDonald