'Sensational … Anyone who has the slightest doubts about Busoni's stature as a composer will surely be won over by this magisterial recording' (Piano International)
'Dark, turbulent, horribly difficult to play, very long - and probably my disc of the year … This fine new recording does full justice to every aspect of the work. [It] will surely help to establish Busoni as an unarguably major composer' (Classic CD)
'Busoni makes ridiculous demands on pianists, but in Marc-André Hamelin's hands, it all sounds perfectly reasonable. It isn't: it's noble, hilarious, impressive and gloriously over the top.' (BBC Music Magazine)
'The biggest blockbuster of them all. Mark Elder and the CBSO support Hamelin to the hilt and the result does full justice to one of the mightiest epics of the piano repertoire' (The Times)
'As piano concertos go, they certainly don't get bigger than this; and as recordings go, they don't come any better' (The Scotsman)
'Hamelin's account is quite extraordinary, especially in the cadenza, in which the virtuosity he unleashes reaches barely credible heights ... one of his finest achievements to date.' (International Piano Quarterly)
' A dazzling disc. If any pianist can clarify and define this bewildering work it is Hamelin, with his razor-sharp reflexes, a technique that knows no difficulties and, even more important, a ready sympathy for Busoni's abrupt changes of pace and direction ... a spine-tingling experience.' (Gramophone)
'Like no other performance that I've heard it proves what a richly enjoyable piece it is' (Gramophone)
'Another awe-inspiring feat from this prodigiously virtuosic Canadian' (Gramophone)
'Let there be no doubt - Hamelin, with the CBSO and Elder, gives a performance of brilliance and passion to rank with any from the past ... thrilling.' (Sunday Herald, Australia)
This has to be our Romantic Piano Concerto for the millennium!
The Busoni concerto, with its five movements, choral finale and a length of over 70 minutes, is surely the most grandiose ever written. But this is no over-ambitious monster; Busoni was one of the greatest pianists the world has known, but he was also a great intellectual with very strong views on art and culture. This work is the masterpiece of his middle years, more of a symphony in the breadth and scope of its ideas, but at the same time almost casually requiring the most formidable technical ability from the soloist. There is no doubt that this is one of music's major neglected masterpieces.
Marc-André Hamelin needs no introduction as a champion of the greatest challenges in the piano literature. Here he is joined by Mark Elder who has a particular reputation as a Busoni conductor. He conducted this work with Peter Donohoe in their famed Proms performance of 1988 and he has also conducted Busoni's rarely performed magnum opus 'Doctor Faust' at ENO.
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Busoni’s Piano Concerto (1902–1904) is the consummation of his first period and a monument to his phenomenal pianism. His title-page design symbolizes the work. There are five movements. I, III and V are represented respectively by Graeco-Roman, Egyptian and Babylonian architecture; II and IV by fantasy in nature.
I. Prologo e Intrioto
II. Pezzo giocoso
III. Pezzo serioso
Part II opens in C major with pulsating strings and low winds accompanying a bold sculptured theme in single notes in the piano’s middle register. The orchestra assumes the melody. Over hieroglyphic pyramids of pianistic figuration, the orchestra develops the previous ideas. The initial baroque bass is now electrified into tempestuous piano chords that seethe under an impassioned iteration of the dirge, now treated in stretto. The piano traces spectral shadows of the dirge, with orchestral reminiscences interposed. A curtailed restatement of the introduction follows, and there are two more chorale-variations (always in D flat), increasingly intricate but constantly tranquil. Cellos evoke the Chopinesque nocturne-theme, set against a lace-work of piano figuration. A long dominant pedal finally yields to a last intensified statement of the dirge.
Part III begins with a throbbing horn dominant-pedal in F sharp minor below plangent Italian cries on the woodwinds. The music modulates back to D flat and reposes in an orchestral idyll.
IV. All’ Italiana
This mammoth concerto, though composed in Busoni’s late 30s, was indeed begun at 16! He composed an Etude in D flat in 1883. This retained his interest, for he played it to his American student Augusta Cottlow and rewarded her enthusiasm by dedicating it to her.
In early manhood he contemplated writing music for the Danish poet Oehlenschläger’s play Aladdin. This ultimately became the male chorus of the Busoni Concerto.
Re-considering his composer’s career in perspective, Busoni judged that his first period, which culminated with his Piano Concerto, was characterised by a mastery of prodigality. From there he progressed to mastery of refinement, his later works being more condensed.
The same process is observed and heard in Busoni’s first opera, Die Brautwahl (‘The Bridal Choice’) of 1911: a huge comic opera. His later operas—Arlecchino, Turandot and Doktor Faust—refine on his first opera, just as his Indianische Fantasie Op 44 refines on his Piano Concerto.
His Piano Concerto was not conceived as an extrovert work but rather as a symphonic oeuvre with a large scale piano obbligato. He later thought of it as his ‘Italian Symphony’.
The sobriety—modesty even—of Busoni’s approach has remarkable restraint in a great virtuoso. This is already indicated in his tempo mark for the first movement. He does not write ‘Allegro brillante’, which a listener might expect, but he writes ‘Allegro, dolce e solenne’ (a sweet and solemn allegro). His restraint indicates his new classicality, close to anti-Romanticism. He pays his listener the compliment of assuming that he is discerning.
Ronald Stevenson ©
Other albums in this series
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 24 – Vianna da Motta
Studio Master: CDA67163 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 37 – Nápravník & Blumenfeld
Studio Master: CDA67511 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 38 – Rubinstein & Scharwenka
Studio Master: CDA67508 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Zelenski
Studio Master: CDA67958 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available