Busoni: Sieben Elegien; Perpetuum mobile; Sieben kurze Stücke; Prelude and Étude en arpèges

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COMPOSERS: Busoni
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Sieben Elegien; Perpetuum mobile; Sieben kurze Stücke; Prelude and Étude en arpèges
PERFORMER: Roland Pöntinen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 853-2
Ferruccio Busoni has a strange position in both the history books and the repertoire. He is praised as an innovator, but understanding of his artistic achievement beyond that is as rare as concert performances of his major works. His own verdict – ‘mindless innovators begin with the denial and striking out of what already exists; I proceed to place more recent accomplishments on what already exists’ – seems to me as good as any. Many of the pieces recorded here show Busoni experimenting with bitonality, atonality, unusual scales and new piano sonorities, but the basic sensibility has more to do with Brahms, Liszt, or even Mozart than with Schoenberg or Stravinsky. For all the virtuosic brilliance, the character that emerges here is introverted, rarefied and inclined to brood on mortality. Even the sparkling canonic Allegro from Seven Short Pieces has its concluding ‘Death Motif’. But the poetry is unique, and rarely morbid. The most obviously death-inspired movement, the ‘Berceuse’ from the Elegies (a shorter version of the better-known orchestral Berceuse élegiaque) is haunting in its subtle inflections of mood and colour. Pianist Roland Pöntinen plays with all the sensitivity and textural clarity the music requires. There’s a sharp intellectual focus, but with enough respect for the Busoni who remains mysterious and enigmatic at core. Stephen Johnson

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