ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
FERRUCCIO BUSONI - The Visionary

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FERRUCCIO BUSONI - The Visionary - Piano Works Vol. 3 - Jeni Slotchiver (Piano) - 044747339627 - Released: February 2015 - Centaur CRC3396

1} Toccata
2} Ten Variations on a Prelude of Chopin
3} Prelude et Etude
4} Nuit de NoŽl
5} Fantasia nach Johann Sebastian Bach
6} Prelude and Triple Fugue in E Flat Major for Organ BWV 552 (St. Anne) by Bach (transcribed for piano by Busoni)

Italian musician, teacher and composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) has always been somewhat of a paradox in that critics, musicians and musicologists have always highly praised his efforts, while the general public have always given him the cold shoulder. On purpose or out of ignorance still needs to be determined in this case. I clearly remember that throughout my many years in the music retail business, that his section of recordings would always remain undisturbed, as if customers would automatically skip over his name. Were they informed or was it through a lack of marketing from the record labels. I understand and am fully aware that his own works (not including the many, many great piano transcriptions he published on Johann Sebastian Bach's music) are not rich in melody or driven by romantic ideals, but are instead strongly guided by the intellectual need to solve harmonic and/or contrapuntal problems, which may contribute in some degree to the lack of interest. But many other composers of his generation displayed the same modus operandi, and somehow, after years of repeated listening and more media exposure, we've familiarized ourselves to their music and now consider them as well established favorites of the concert stage and recordings.

There's no question that Busoni's music requires attentive listening, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The Toccata for example, his last major composition, takes the listener on a formidable journey through music's very own logic, with its coalescing echoes of Liszt, Scriabin, and beyond. The various treatments subjected on the Chopin Prelude, including a fugue, a waltz, and harmonically distant reimaginings through the trickery of maquillage, make for a captivating listen, while the dark serenity and simplicity of Nuit de NoŽl shows us a different side of the composer. Pianist Jeni Slotchiver, whose only recordings so far (all on the Centaur label) seem to have been dedicated to the music of Ferruccio Busoni, may well prove to be this composer's best exponent and intercessor between him and the listener. Her playing is first and foremost at the service of the music, and always leads the narrative to its inevitable conclusion. Some of the titans of the piano like Ogdon, Brendel and Hamelin have already put their stamp on this music, but there is nothing to prevent Jeni Slotchiver from imprinting her own art, technical skill and persona on it. If you've passed on this composer before from fear of getting lost, let this Busoni specialist be your dedicated guide.

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2015