Busoni: Turandot Suite; Sarabande and Cortège; Berceuse élégiaque

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Busoni
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Turandot Suite; Sarabande and Cortège; Berceuse élégiaque
PERFORMER: Hong Kong PO/Samuel Wong
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555373
A Chinese orchestra for Busoni’s 1905 Turandot Suite, with its authentic Chinese melodies, seems rather a good idea. And the HK Philharmonic under Samuel Wong brings out the barbaric colouring, the harsh ceremonial of Busoni’s highly individual take on Gozzi’s play (20 years before Puccini) better than any performance I’ve heard. Instrumental detail is sinisterly pointed with obvious relish (hear the baleful brass at the start of the ‘Night Waltz’), helped rather than hindered by a very close recording. The other available versions tend to be selections only; this is the complete suite as originally published, all eight movements and 40 minutes of it. Wong retains, though, the Funeral March, which Busoni wanted replaced by ‘Altoum’s Warning’, composed for that purpose in 1917. (And, not to be greedy, there’s a case for including the two additional movements he wrote for Max Reinhardt’s 1911 production.)

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I wondered if the elusive crepuscular atmospheres of the Berceuse and the Sarabande and Cortège would survive similar treatment. But these prove to be performances of extraordinary intensity (on that count, superior to Neeme Järvi’s recent Chandos CD, which has no sharp edges), and the close-miked quality spotlights the sheer genius of Busoni’s orchestrations. Wong gives us by far the slowest Berceuse élégiaque on disc, liberally reinterpreting Busoni’s Andantino marking but digging deep into the score’s bottomless reserves of cataleptic melancholia. I very much hope, as with Järvi’s Chandos disc, that this is the first instalment of a Busoni series. Calum MacDonald