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Solo Piano Works By Busoni And Vlad / Carlo Grante

Release Date: 08/22/2006 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1186   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian BachFerruccio BusoniRoman Vlad
Performer:  Carlo Grante
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Like mathematics or chess, counterpoint is one of those cerebral endeavors, creative and arcane, reaching down the ages to command great passion, intense cunning, and timeless truth. It is practiced, often, by obscure men in far-flung places whose struggles and triumphs are seldom noted and never understood by the world. It is a language, like magic’s spells and cantraips, requiring uncommon abilities and spoken only by initiates. If, by accident, its monuments attain prominence—e.g., the “Pope Marcellus” Mass or the Fantasia contrappuntistica—they are ignored or patronized rather than embraced. In 1910, Busoni, on tour in the “Untidy States,” ran across master contrapuntist Bernhard Ziehn and his pupil, composer and organist Wilhelm Read more Middelschulte, about whom he wrote a brief piece for the music journal, Signale, aptly titled “The Gothics of Chicago.” Ziehn’s theory of symmetrical inversion and discussions regarding Bach’s great incomplete fugue, usually regarded as the intended capstone of the Art of Fugue, prompted Busoni to the composition of what eventually took shape as the Fantasia contrappuntistica, which has become, for contrapuntists, a prophetic book. Thus, an aura of the Gothic—which Busoni defined as “that art in which delicacy combines with the possibilities of power, feeling combines with fantasy, strict calculation with mystical belief”—clings to the work of his follower, Roman Vlad. As a scholar and writer, Vlad has long been one of the most intuitively responsive commentators on Busoni’s art, but his music remained largely unknown except to a small inner circle. Chances are it will, like that of the recently revived works of Middelschulte, remain so. Not without drama or power, his elaborate Opus Triplex, playing over 36 minutes, makes unusual demands upon the listener. Extensive, highly detailed—in fact, valuable—notes by both the pianist and Vlad, himself, make it possible to follow. For instance, a bit of the latter’s: “. . . this fantastic gallop gives way to an Adagio (‘molto cantabile’) in the form of a tight canon between two two-line parts. A more dramatic section characterized by increased harmonic density and intensity of expression, precedes a repeat. . . . This is followed by a Canone a quattro parte [four-part canon] in which the single notes of each part are so spaced out by rests that one can actually hear one note at a time.” But it remains a tough nut whose abstract soundscapes resemble, if anything, Busoni’s Sonatina seconda. So this is what Dr. Faust’s meditations are like . . .

Grante gives the Opus Triplex an eloquent airing, rife with portent, expression, hysteria, and fantasy. His annotations make clear that he knows what Vlad is about bar-by-bar and his rendering articulates, insofar as that is possible, the music’s intricacies. The Fantasia contrappuntistica, on the other hand, is blandly muted through the long chorale prelude and the first fugue, a procedure allowed by Busoni’s performance indications but unconvincing as Grante delivers it. The Angst, also called for, is mollified. As well as being an extraordinarily adept pianist, Grante is in the grip of ideas. This observation on Busoni, for instance, seems to have shaped his conception of the Fantasia contrappuntistica: “His italianità . . . lies more in the introspective, hidden world of Italian personality, that blend of melancholy and exaltation, religiosity and pragmatism, mysterious intuition and single-mindedness that unites Italy’s long history and its people in a common destiny, concealed, ‘occultamente,’ by enigmatic symbolism, occult meanings, and seemingly sunny cheerfulness throughout the country’s intellectual and artistic history, whose classicism is most often associated with the myth of eternal recurrence.”

With the second fugue comes—welcome but unbidden by the score—a sudden animation, lifting, over the remainder of the piece, to the directed cataclysmic climax. Of note: Grante interpolates Busoni’s 43-bar appendix (a curious addendum to the work’s supposedly edizione definitiva), as allowed, in the middle of the fourth fugue, thus lending the too-slender crux of the contrapuntal argument greater heft and repletion. To date, only John Ogdon (Continuum 1006, Fanfare 13:1) has followed this common sense course. The upshot is a reading that moves from disappointing to involved and, ultimately, gripping. If this is a less than wholehearted endorsement, it must be said that admirers of contrapuntal and Gothic art will find this issue alternately frustrating and fascinating, important and indispensable. Detailed sound is recessed just sufficiently to allow thunderous climaxes to fill the spacious aural frame. Recommended.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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Works on This Recording

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV 668a by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Carlo Grante (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Notes: Arranger: Roman Vlad. 
Fantasia contrappuntistica, K 256 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Carlo Grante (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1922; Berlin, Germany 
Opus Triplex by Roman Vlad
Performer:  Carlo Grante (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: Composition written: 2001 - 2005. 

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