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Schumann: Humoreske; Busoni: Fantasia Contrappuntistica / Jacob Greenberg

Schumann / Busoni / Greenberg
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  New Focus   Catalog #: 121   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert SchumannFerruccio Busoni
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Humoreske. BUSONI Fantasia Contrappuntistica (1912 version) Jacob Greenburg (pn) NEW FOCUS FCR 121 (56:13)

If one had to choose an apt companion for Ferruccio Busoni’s massive tribute to Bach, it would surely be the Humoreske. It is oddly enough one of the few piano works not dedicated to Clara (instead to composer Julie von Read more Webenau, a student of Mozart’s son Franz Xaver Wolfgang) and one of the few that retains a less programmatic style than some of his others. It is in fact, a rare example of pure music in Schumann’s piano corpus, though he does follow the pattern of alternating sections immersed in extreme contrasts. The writer Jean Paul is said to be the inspiration for the humor here, though there are no extant indications that the composer made any sort of direct ties in a literary fashion. The work is a solid masterpiece that requires great technique and ability to change temperamental direction at the drop of a hat. I think that for the most part Jacob Greenburg is able to step lightly though the many pitfalls in this music, though I am not always convinced that each movement receives the needed intensity. Schumann is a composer who requires the utmost attention to detail even when it might seem that the lesser is getting swallowed up in the overall wash of the whole. The minute variances are tied together in such a way that to diminish or ignore part is to slight the larger entity. Perhaps it is just a lack of focus at certain key moments that leads me to think something is amiss in a few places, unlike the laser-beam refraction that Marc-André Hamelin gives the piece, that ultimately misses some of the humor, subtle and tongue-in-cheek though it is. I like Greenburg’s tonal qualities and his ability to nicely pedal his way through some of Schumann’s trickier phrases. And his touch is truly noteworthy—just listen to the opening two bars of this work and you hear a master doing what he does best; but ultimately I want a little more contrast in this work than what Greenburg provides, though this still remains an impressive performance.

In the Busoni we find nothing lacking at all. This work, a tribute of sorts to Bach’s Art of Fugue (to the point of using Bach’s actual fugues as his basis) may be the first example of a true neobaroque style, as we get things like the chorale prelude that opens the piece and serves as a hint of Bach, before we are actually immersed in Bach himself with the caveat that Busoni’s own much more modern language will color the harmonies. Busoni considered this his most important piano work, retreading it through at least four issues including one for two pianos, and it has been arranged for orchestra and for organ as well. It is a sensational piece of music that is one of the most creative efforts at re-imagining ever attempted.

Unfortunately neither the single-piano nor duo-piano versions have fared that well on disc, surprisingly so considering the caliber of those who have taken aim at it. Only the Serkin/Goode performance on Sony really lights this work up in the way it deserves, and I think the two-piano rendition is the preferred way to hear this work. Among solo outings, I do enjoy Hamish Milne’s Hyperion recording (even though Adrian Corleonis thought it pervaded by a “flatness” in Fanfare 32:3), but I must say that Greenburg gets it just about right. He doesn’t get lost in any academic euphoria and is able to breathe some real life into Busoni’s artful ejaculations that show this work to be, finally, one of constrained if not overt emotion.

The sound is clear, focused, and clean as a whistle. For those inclined, no red flags at all.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter Read less

Works on This Recording

Humoreske for Piano in B flat major, Op. 20 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Fantasia contrappuntistica, K 256 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1922; Berlin, Germany 

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