Busoni: Doktor Faust

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Doktor Faust
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (speaker), Dietrich Henschel, Markus Hollop, Kim Begley; Geneva Grand Theatre Chorus, Lyon Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25501-2
For Busoni, opera’s inherent artificiality meant it was best equipped to deal with the comic or the supernatural. Hence Die Brautwahl, an opera buffa with added sorcery; and the occult Doktor Faust, Busoni’s unfinished masterpiece.


There is much enchanting music (and some crude racial stereotyping) in Die Brautwahl, though Busoni’s reverence for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale resulted in less than ideal dramatic pacing; and his retention of Hoffmann’s cynical ending makes for a somewhat lame curtain-fall. This 1992 stage performance is as well conducted as one would expect, but the cast is no more than adequate, with only Graham Clark, as the pedantic functionary Thusman, distinguishing himself.


In the case of Die Brautwahl, beggars certainly can’t be choosers. Not so with the powerfully Expressionist Doktor Faust, and DG’s 1969 recording, with a commanding performance of the title-role by Fischer-Dieskau, still sounds remarkably well. However, that version, like the new Brautwahl, was quite heavily cut (with some damage to Busoni’s ‘closed’ musical forms). Erato’s Faust contains every note Busoni wrote, as well as some he didn’t: not only the standard, if melodramatic, completion of the final scene by the composer’s pupil Philipp Jarnach, but also the painstaking reconstruction according to Busoni’s detailed notes by Antony Beaumont. Fischer-Dieskau makes a symbolic reappearance, with an eloquent reading of the prologue and epilogue, and Dietrich Henschel is another fine Faust. Kim Begley’s Mephistopheles is, however, a good deal less chilling than the more dispassionate William Cochrane’s on DG. Kent Nagano conducts at high voltage; but choice between the two recordings is not easy. Misha Donat