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Hyperion Records

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Materia (1912) by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)
Private Collection / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67951/3
Recording details: August 2012
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2013
Total duration: 34 minutes 4 seconds

'Works where Busoni found his truest voice … Hamelin, playing with unfaltering lucidity and authority, achieves an astonishing triumph even by his exalted standards. As always, Hyperion has done him proud … an album that could never be bettered' (Gramophone) » More

'Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto for Hyperion is one of the finest ever recorded of that mammoth work, and now he has produced what is arguably the most important collection of the solo piano music since Geoffrey Douglas Madge’s epic six-disc survey for Philips in 1987 … All the most significant works are here … Hamelin includes some rarities Madge omitted, notably Busoni’s first foray into 'Red Indian’ music, the spellbinding Indianisches Erntelied (not published till 2001) … As to the performances, they are all you could hope from a player of such quality, laced with repertoire he might have been born to interpret. This is playing of a very high order, such as—despite the now numerous competing versions of the Elegies, Sonatinas and Toccata—one seldom hears. Hamelin is well-nigh ideal in sensitivity of phrasing, clarity of tone and delineation of voices, not to mention subtlety of pedalling … He reminds you that you are listening to one of history’s greatest piano composers, a philosopher of the piano to whose ear and mind the whole of European concert music seems to have been continually present. A fabulous set, almost beyond praise' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'What comes through on listening to Hamelin is the underlying consistency of his approach over this music as a whole and, above all, the singularity of Busoni's musical vision and its relevance to composers and pianists almost a century on' (International Record Review)

'Few pianists have the time and technique to devote to music that is so little-known. Marc-André Hamelin is the shining exception. He demonstrated his Busoni credentials more than a decade ago with an outstanding account of the Piano Concerto … Hamelin handles all with great intelligence. There's a swagger when the music demands it, a fabulously refined sense of sonority and transparency when required. The technical challenges are surmounted so effortlessly that you begin to take the confidence of his playing for granted, when in fact it's a remarkable achievement' (The Guardian) » More

'The gift I'd choose for myself would be Marc-André Hamelin's magisterial three-disc survey of Busoni's later piano music—elusive and haunting material from a pivotal figure' (The Times) » More

'Hyperion does Busoni a great service in issuing this magnificent three-disc box. Those readers who know Busoni mainly (or only) via his transcriptions will have a whole new world revealed to them. Hamelin, one of today’s super-virtuosos but also a musician of the highest rank, seems to be the ideal interpreter, and is captured throughout in superb sound' (International Piano) » More

'This three-CD set presents Marc-André Hamelin, another formidable pianist, in Busoni works from the first quarter of the 20th century. The music draws from the heritage of Bach, Liszt and Wagner, while taking modern paths and anticipating atonality. Even when a particular piece seems amorphous or elusive, these elegies, fantasias, sonatinas and more are continually fascinating, especially in Mr. Hamelin’s commanding performances' (The New York Times)

'Hamelin's recent release of three CDs devoted to the late piano music of Ferruccio Busoni represents another milestone in an outstanding career … These three discs contain a number of pieces not previously recorded and also include a sampling of the numerous Bach arrangements Busoni is best known for. The programming is exemplary, the sound is alluring (from a Steinway piano recorded in London’s Henry Wood Hall) and the program notes are excellent. Bravo Hamelin!' (The Whole Note, Canada)

'L’impeccable virtuosité de Marc-André Hamelin se joue des pièges recélés par ces redoutables partitions; sa quête faustienne, à la fois analytique et méditée, assume la dimension philosophique quasi médiévale de cette alchimie sonore et nous en livre une référence absolue' (Classica, France)

‘Marc-André Hamelin gelingt, alle Facetten in exzellenten Interpretationen darzustellen … seiner qualitativ hochwertigen Edition der Klaviermusik von Ferruccio Busoni dürfte deshalb über eine lange Zeit der Referenzstatus sicher sein' (Piano, Germany)

Elegies, BV249
Nos 1-6: 1907; No 7: 1909

Berceuse  [4'25]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Elegies are a group of six pieces written in late 1907 (a seventh one was added in 1909). They are each dedicated to one of Busoni’s piano pupils, of whom three (Gottfried Galston, Egon Petri, Michael Zadora) would remain among the most devoted members of his entourage in the last years of his life. Appropriately enough for pieces that herald his entry into a new era of tonal organization, the first one is entitled Nach der Wendung (Recueillement). Shortly after reaching this ‘turning point’ in his compositional career, and having paused to meditate, Busoni wrote that he had finally found his real self. Yet the Elegies look as much to the past as to the future, and as such reflect the ambiguity that is part of his personality as a composer.

The second piece, All’Italia! (In modo napolitano), which uses material from the second and fourth movements of the Piano Concerto, begins with a striking juxtaposition of the major and minor versions of the same chords for the presentation of an elegiac Neapolitan song; its middle section is a brilliant tarantella. The third Elegy, which would find its definitive form as the opening Chorale Prelude of the Fantasia contrappuntistica, is based on the Lutheran chorale Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. It bears the title Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir (‘My soul trembles and hopes of thee’), and several interpretative directions convey its oppressive atmosphere (ängstlich, mit unterdrückter Empfindung, ansioso).

The fourth and fifth Elegies use material from the Turandot Suite (1904–5), which Busoni wrote for Karl Vollmoeller’s adaptation of Carlo Gozzi’s play and later incorporated into the opera Turandot (1916–17). Turandots Frauengemach is a delicate ‘scherzando’ setting of the well-known melody Greensleeves framed by sections in a different tonality; it is sung on the syllable ‘la’ by women behind the curtain in the women’s quarters. The fleeting and veiled Die Nächtlichen (Walzer) freely adapts the suite’s seventh movement.

Erscheinung (Notturno) is taken from the opera Die Brautwahl (1906–11), on which Busoni was already working. This nocturne is heard when a vision of the heroine Albertine appears (hence the title) at the window of a clock-tower. Its highly original final page features chords in the left hand with swift scales in the right in a bitonal relationship. At the end Busoni provides a variant of the three opening bars of the first piece to round off the cycle when it is played complete. The pianist can also use the standard ending and continue with the Berceuse (1909), added in a later edition. This strange, misty piece in soft dynamics (with both pedals depressed throughout) begins with a theme in long note values in the middle register above a rocking pedal movement; it continues with a bitonal section whose harmonies are blended with the pedal and concludes with bell-like sonorities. In October 1909 Busoni prepared an extended version for chamber orchestra entitled Berceuse élégiaque as a tribute to his recently departed mother.

from notes by Marc-André Roberge © 2013

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