Most of Busoni's Piano Transcriptions of Others' Music
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The appellation 'Bach-Busoni' used to appear with regularity on pianists' programs. But a wave of purism swept across the world in the last three decades and Busoni's transcriptions of Bach's music pretty much dropped out of sight. That, fortunately, has been reversed in the last few years and we are not only hearing Busoni's Bach transcriptions again but those he made of music by Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Schoenberg (!), and others. This 4CD collection features almost all of Busoni's transcriptions, and includes a few first recordings (e.g., a delightful fantasy on themes from Karl Goldmark's opera 'Merlin', Novácek's elfin Scherzo) as well as a few different versions of better-known transcriptions (e.g. Bach's E Flat Prelude and Fugue, in this case containing a cadenza inserted by Busoni (!) cut from later editions).
There are some pieces that don't particularly come off (Busoni's contrapuntal fantasy on Bach's Art of Fugue [there will be those who disagree with this opinion, I'm sure]) but there are also some that actually sound better than their originals (Busoni's piano version of Liszt's organ fantasy on Meyerbeer's chorale 'Ad nos, ad salutarem undam' [in my opinion very nearly as good as Liszt's great B Minor Piano Sonata]). There are some rarities that are delightful (e.g., the Scherzo from the E Minor String Quartet of Ottakar Novácek; three pieces from Busoni's 'Klavierübunge' including the clever and satisfying rewriting of the Serenade from Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' and of Offenbach's 'Barcarolle' from 'Tales of Hoffmann').
There have, of course, been previous recordings of many of these works. Busoni himself recorded a few of them in the infancy of sound recording. Geoffrey Douglas Madge recorded a lot of Busoni's piano works but those performances were largely trudging. The late lamented Kevin Oldham made a good recording of the Ad Nos fantasy. There are others by John Ogdon, Sequeira Costa and, of course, Egon Petri. And there is an incendiary CD by Paul Jacobs.
Holger Groschopp is a pianist new to me. He is a Berliner and appears to be fairly young. He has previously recorded works by Isang Yun (with whom he studied) and some chamber music of Paul Dessau. His playing is variable. He excels in those works in which he appears to truly believe (as the Ad Nos Fantasy, the Bach E Flat Prelude and Fugue 'St. Anne', the lighter pieces like the Novácek and the Don Giovanni Serenade, the 'Fantasia nach Johann Sebastian Bach', Busoni's own version of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Ten Variations on the C Minor Prelude of Chopin, the 'Figaro' Fantasy), but in the rather less brilliant works, his playing can be a bit faceless.
Each of these four discs is available singly, but the price of this box set is a real savings over the single-disc prices. I can give a generally positive recommendation for the set even with the few rather bland performances included.