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Piano Music 6
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The sixth volume of Busoni' piano music features two major projects from the earlier part of his career. The Liszt transcription powerfully recreates the composer' grandest work for organ in terms of the piano, while the Piano Sonata in F minor is an ex
As I've noted in previous reviews, the nature of the keyboard writing in Liszt's massive organ fantasy and fugue based on the chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam from Meyerbeer's Le Prophete lends itself well to the piano. Although Liszt himself made an effective piano duet arrangement, Busoni's two-handed piano version can stand toe-to-toe with Liszt's B minor sonata as a virtuoso showpiece. That is, if you have the right pianist. By and large, Wolf Harden is up to the task. He effortlessly navigates the outer sections' technical difficulties and stamina-testing textures, and sensitively sustains the central lyrical movement. Perhaps the latter emerges with more austere transparency in Hamish Milne's Hyperion studio recording, while the formidable fugue benefits from Giovanni Belluci's greater animation and dramatic sweep in an out-of-print recording on the small Assai label. And perhaps you could imagine more incisive and assertive interpretations of the weak "fake Brahms" F minor sonata Busoni wrote as a teenager and of the composer's late, bitonally obsessed Prélude et etude arpèges. However, this is definitely worth it for "Ad nos" and for Richard Whitehouse's extensive, highly informative booklet notes. -- Classics Today, Jed Distler, January 2010
Liszt never made things easy for himself, and Busoni didn't like leaving well enough alone. So we're not surprised that Wolf Harden, playing Busoni's powerhouse piano transcription of Liszt's organ Fantasy and Fugue, sounds like he has four hands, not two. -- The Globe and Mail, Elissa Poole, December 2009
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The Sonata in F Minor comes from 1883, when Busoni was only 17 and a student in Vienna. The score was not available until recent years and is not well-known. It is a remarkably tightly constructed three movement work whose influences are, not surprisingly, Schumann and Brahms, as well as Anton Rubinstein. The first movement is in sonata-allegro form and has a striking first theme that is developed with real skill albeit with some stolidity. The Andante is altogether more serene and lyrical. The finale opens with a section marked 'In the guise of an improvisation' and leads to an exciting and masterful fugato which Harden plays lickety-split; at times one feels he is playing faster than his fingers will manage, but he never quite loses control. An exhilarating performance of an exhilarating movement.
The final two tracks on this CD are stylistically different as they come from 1923, long after Busoni had completely changed (modernized) his compositional fingerprints. The 'Prélude et étude en arpéges' are much more astringent than what had come before on this disc. The harmonies employed scintillate quietly in the sparse, evocative writing that had become characteristic of Busoni's late style. Harden plays, as required, with coolness and emotional restraint.