Busoni, Bach

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Busoni
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Fantasia contrappuntistica; An die Jugend; Prelude & Fugue in C minor
PERFORMER: Wolf Harden (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555034
Alistair Noble is a budding Australian virtuoso who studied with the Busoni scholar (and composer/pianist) Larry Sitsky: his devotion to Busoni is indubitable, but it’s difficult to know what to make of his self-produced disc. The deceptively important Sonatinas are available (even complete sets of the six) from a variety of pianists, and Noble prises nothing from them not already and more gracefully elucidated by Michele Campanella or Paul Jacobs. Intent, it seems, on playing all the notes absolutely correctly, he is excessively cautious in tempo, and the Carmen-Fantasie Sonatina must be the slowest account ever recorded. Mere prestidigital velocity is no virtue, of course, but élan and daring are of the music’s essence. While Noble expounds many pages (especially of Sonatinas 2 and 4) with sympathy and insight, the overall effect is fatally careful and literal.

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Since Sonatina 1 subsumed the first and last sections of An die Jugend, we can directly compare Wolf Harden’s playing here: it is consistently more evocative and imaginative. The An die Jugend cycle, Busoni’s manifesto for the modern transmutation of the past that would become Junge Klassizität, is seldom recorded complete; but the rarity here (I know no other version, though it’s not flagged as a premiere) is the little Prelude and Fugue he composed at 16, deftly uniting the worlds of Bach and Italian opera. Such small beginnings modestly presaged the huge Fantasia contrappuntistica – Harden’s reading of which, almost lightweight beside the blackly awesome visions of Ogdon or Petri, is nevertheless one of the most sheerly poetic accounts of this polyphonic masterwork I’ve encountered. An auspicious first release in a projected Naxos Busoni series. Calum MacDonald