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Busoni was not only one of the greatest pianists of his age but also a composer and theorist of daunting intellect. His three idols were Bach, Mozart and Liszt and this disc presents two transcriptions, and—in the Fantasia contrappuntistica—a colossal re-imagining, each paying tribute to the past while reflecting Busoni’s genius as both creator and re-creator.
The Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ is undoubtedly one of Liszt’s very greatest works yet as an organ piece it could be regarded as rather inaccessible to the general concert goer. Busoni’s magnificent piano transcription allows the work access to the concert hall; it remains a mystery why the piece has not been taken up by more pianists—perhaps its time will come.
In comparison the Mozart transcription is a much more modest, though perfectly realized, piece which gives much needed repose before the onslaught of Busoni’s pianistic magnum opus, the Fantasia contrappuntistica. This work has at its heart a realization of the incomplete final fugue from Bach’s Art of Fugue but seen in terms of twentieth-century harmony. The fugal sections are preceded by a chorale arrangement and interspersed with an intermezzo and variations; Busoni then creates an entirely new fugue on four subjects which Bach is thought to have planned, though he did not live to carry it out. In this work Busoni hoped to create ‘one of the most significant works of modern piano literature’. If its daunting complexity both for pianist and listener never make it a standard of the repertoire, it is certainly one of the most imposing of piano works and in this performance Hamish Milne has certainly created a landmark in his already impressive recording career.