Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ferruccio Busoni's posthumous opera Doktor Faust was premiered in Dresden on May 21, 1925. Pianist, composer, teacher, theorist, and writer, Busoni (1866-1924) had died the previous year, leaving his masterwork incomplete. His faithful disciple, Philip Jarnach, made the premiere possible by completing the final scene. It was not until 1984 however, that the musicologist and conductor Antony Beaumont put together an alternate, longer ending following the sketches and drafts left by the composer. Both endings can be heard on this new recording, only the second ever made of Busoni's lyrical masterpiece after Ferdinand Leitner's effort for Deutsche Grammophon in 1969, featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
in the title role.
It's hard to understand why this wonderful opera has spent so long in virtual oblivion. Faustian subject, subtle libretto, inspired music: all of these elements combine to build a unique work of art with tremendous dramatic impact and mystical implications. The problem probably lies in the style: neither romantic nor classical, the unclassifiable Busoni is too modern for the conservative and too conservative for the modern. Premiered only a few months before the triumph of Alban Berg's Wozzeck--a seminal work that changed the way operas were conceived--Doktor Faust doesn't fit any usual category. The libretto, written by Busoni himself, not after Goethe's Faust as one would expect, but after the popular puppet theatre play, tells a slightly different version of Faust's story and adopts an audacious structure consisting of a Symphonia, two Prologues, an Intermezzo, a principal action subdivided into three scenes, and an Epilogue. The music mostly evolves in a dreamy atmosphere, supported by an orchestration that's by turns glowing, menacing, scintillating, and opaque, and by writing that's dominated by abundant counterpoint and strange harmonic twists.
All his life, the pianist-composer was looking for some kind of magic quality in his music, and he seems finally to have found it with this incomplete opera, rich in moments of intense suggestion and hypnotic beauty. A master of transcription, Busoni continuously gives his own creation new shapes and forms--an unusual skill too often mistaken for lack of inspiration. Throughout the opera the listener can recognize material borrowed from or included in works written earlier or simultaneously with Doktor Faust. To give just a few examples: the first Prologue exploits parts of the Sonatina seconda for piano; we hear bits of Tanzwalzer for orchestra in the wedding procession of the Duke and Duchess of Parma; and the wonderful Aria of the Duchess also is the central part of the Toccata for piano. Busoni's music alternates between very different moods, from the sarcastic encounter with Mephistopheles to the moving Intermezzo with the soldier, from the metaphysical nobility of the orchestral Sarabande to the transfigured ending.
At the head of the Opéra de Lyon forces, Kent Nagano seems to perfectly understand the peculiarity of the Italian-German composer's art. His conducting dwells on every detail while giving Busoni's singular orchestration the appropriate hallucinatory coloring. In comparison, Leitner and his less-disciplined orchestra have a tendency to make the music sound more neo-classical, and thus banal. The singers are all excellent, even though the voice of the Duchess (Eva Jenis) isn't the most seductive. Dietrich Henschel incarnates a very human and doubtful Faust, certainly less sophisticated than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (who also is present here in the spoken role of the Poet) on the DG recording, but probably more moving. It goes without saying that the option of listening to the opera with both endings (Jarnach's and Beaumont's) is another important asset of this Erato production. The sound is a bit dark, respecting the acoustics of the Lyon Opéra as well as the fascinating, original sound alchemy created by Busoni. This is a major release, not only to fulfill our knowledge of 20th century opera, but also to finally do justice to Busoni's genius as a composer.
--Luca Sabbatini, ClassicsToday.com
Reviewing original release of this recording, Erato 25501 Read less
Works on This Recording
Doktor Faust, K 303 by Ferruccio Busoni
Detlef Roth (Baritone),
Eberhard Lorenz (Tenor),
Richard Rittelmann (Baritone),
Nikolai Andrej Schukoff (Tenor),
Bruno Ranc (Bass),
Marc Duguay (Tenor),
Jérôme Varnier (Bass),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Spoken Vocals),
Torsten Kerl (Tenor),
Frédéric Caton (Bass),
Kim Begley (Tenor),
William Dazeley (Baritone),
Eva Jenisová (Soprano),
Markus Hollop (Bass),
Hjördis Thébault (Mezzo Soprano),
Anna Sterzer-Mizkewitch (Mezzo Soprano),
Dietrich Henschel (Baritone),
Patricia Petibon (Soprano),
Laurent Alvaro (Baritone)
Lyon Opera Orchestra,
Geneva Grand Theatre Chorus,
Lyon Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: circa 1924; Berlin, Germany
Date of Recording: 1997-98
Venue: Opera House, Lyon, France
Length: 196 Minutes 27 Secs.
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