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Busoni: Solo Piano Works, Vol 2 / Geoffrey Douglas Madge

Release Date: 09/11/2007 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 420742   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews


Away with moderation: Busoni is the most misunderstood and misrepresented of the twentieth century's great composers, and this massive six-and-a-half-hour set may prove to be the biggest boost to his reputation since Antony Beaumont's completion of the final scene of Doktor Faust and his admirable book on the composer.

Busoni needs listening to in extenso, troughs (not deep ones) as well as peaks. He was the first to acknowledge that his mature style was late in developing, but he was no late starter: the earliest music here, and pretty accomplished it is too, was written at 12 years old and by the age of 18 he had written the remarkable Variations and Fugue on Chopin's C minor
Read more Prelude, a tour de force of late nineteenth-century pianism and sonorous inventiveness. Busoni's problem, or rather the dilemma that his work strives to solve, was that he had the virtuoso performer's deep committedness to the music of the past as well as the creator's preoccupation with the present and the future. Hence, in a way, all those 'creative transcriptions' of earlier music, of Bach above all, and hence the attempt in Busoni's 'original' music to find a modern style that would not deny the past but embrace it. On casual acquaintance this can seem like unoriginality: using other men's music or styles to make up for a lack of personal identity. Busoni's frequent re-use of his own music might be seen to reinforce this view: a creative personality that could only run to a few ideas, which then perforce had to be repeatedly recycled.

If one work had to be chosen to refute this idea it might well be the suite An die Jugend of 1909. Its three central movements are all 'after' other composers, Bach, Paganini and Mozart respectively, but the exuberant contrapuntal virtuosity with which Busoni develops a Bach prelude and its succeeding fugue simultaneously, the wit of his embellishments of Mozart (and his demonstration that 'post-Wagnerian' tonal ambiguity goes back at least as far as 1786) and his total recasting of Paganini in terms of advanced piano technique, go a long way beyond mere transcription. And the outer movements are pure Busoni, and could not be by anyone else: the first a tripartite demonstration that extreme simplicity and experimental complexity can be unified by a wide-ranging creative imagination and by their common rootedness in Bach, the brief epilogue an astonishing territorial claim: all musical language, from Bach's day to his own, will from now on be his resource and he announces this by 'modulating' from a Bachian flourish to the furthest reaches of tonality and back to a perfect chord of C major.

All Busoni's major original works for solo keyboard are here, plus a generous selection from the huge output of his youth and a cross-section of those didactic pieces that have an interest beyond the technical. Inevitably, there are inequalities: Busoni was a pianist and a composer from his very earliest years and in the works prior to about 1909–10 (and in some passages after then, even) one is sometimes more aware of him indulging his love for Bach, Beethoven and Liszt, and his love of piano sonority (particularly the richer, deeper left-hand end of the keyboard) than of a developing individual voice. But even in the earliest pieces the masks that he wears (the Schumann mask especially) are uncommonly convincing, the keyboard technique is commanding, and as early as the 24 Preludes (completed just after Busoni's fifteenth birthday) a pleasure in unexpected harmonies and darkly angular themes that we will eventually recognize as 'Faustian' begins to assert itself alongside the displays of rather forceful pianism. Faust and Mephistopheles as well are glimpsed in the E. T. A. Hoffmannesque world of the Racconti fantastici, written a year later than the Preludes, and from there on there is scarcely a work without at least a hint of genius.

Busoni's invention was generous: hugely effective though they are, those early Chopin variations play for nearly half an hour of unremitting ingenuity; Busoni acknowledged this when he produced a much shorter revised edition (both versions are included here). It is perhaps significant that there also exists an abbreviated edizione minore even of the colossal and legendarily taxing Fantasia contrappuntistica (Madge only plays the edizione definitiva; real Busonians will want the late recasting for two pianos as well, perhaps also the preliminary sketch known as the Grosse Fuge) and it is true that in certain of his moods Busoni can seem a bit too much: too much virtuosity, too much sonorous richness, too much florid contrapuntal elaboration. But in page after page of the six Sonatinas, several of the Elegien, much of the Fantasia and of the Indianisches Tagebuch Busoni does achieve the fusion of old and new, the inclusiveness that he sought, and in the magnificent and moving Fantasia nach Johann Sebastian Bach (a very free fantasy on three themes by Bach, written in memory of the composer's father), the highly impressive Sieben kurze Stucke (which incorporate the most beautiful of Busoni's homages to Mozart) and the Mephistophelian late Toccata he achieves, I believe, greatness.

Madge plays with quite stunning technical control and an evident love of rich and complex piano sonorities that matches Busoni's own (and if he pounds with his left hand rather in some of the earlier music, it is no doubt what the composer would have done himself). He has all the necessary stamina that the bigger pieces demand, but is no less sensitive to more mysterious and poetic pages. The performances were recorded live (though there is not the slightest sign of an audience or of a large concert-hall acoustic), so there are a few minor fluffs of no real consequence. The recorded sound is very good indeed: impressively big but not noisy. The set is a major achievement and an eloquently compelling act of advocacy.'

-- Michael Oliver, Gramophone
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Works on This Recording

Elegies (7) for Piano, K 249 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; Berlin, Germany 
Suite campestre, Op. 18/K 81 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1878; Graz, Austria 
Variations (10) on Chopin's Prelude in c, Op. 22/K 213a by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; Berlin, Germany 
Fantasia contrappuntistica, K 256 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1922; Berlin, Germany 
Notes: Ver: 1910 
Choralvorspiel, K 256a by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912 
Notes: This work is Busoni's "Edizione minore" of his Fantasia contrappuntistica, K 256. 
Nuit de noël by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; Berlin, Germany 
Indianisches Tagebuch: Book 1, K 267 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; Berlin, Germany 
Fantasia after Johann Sebastian Bach for Piano, K 253 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Geoffrey Douglas Madge (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; Berlin, Germany 

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