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Penguin Guide, January 2009

These sonatas are early works. The First comes from 1890, when Busoni was a professor of the piano at Helsinki, and the Second followed in 1898; its première in Helsinki two years later was by Victor Nováček, who was to give the first performance of the 1904 version of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. Busoni spoke of it as his ‘Opus 1’, in the sense that he felt that in it he had found his voice. The Four Bagatelles come from 1888 and were written in Leipzig for the seven-year-old Egon Petri, who was to become a lifelong champion of Busoni’s piano music. Joseph Lin and Benjamin Loeb are both fine players and admirably accomplished advocates of this appealing repertoire.



Music Teacher International, October 2008

Busoni is a towering figure in pianism, and we rarely have the opportunity to hear him as a composer of other instruments. His complete understanding and command of the piano is evident in these works that could virtually be titled sonatas for piano and violin (as indeed the Second Sonata originally was). These are striking works in their neo-classicism and bold romantic gestures, and display great eloquence, reminiscent of Brahms and even Beethoven in their structure. Both performers have the full measure of Busoni’s virtuosic writing in both these Sonatas; the lion’s share is naturally, given to the pianist, but the violin has ample opportunity for sweeping phrases and intricate harmonic invention that is striking. The delightful Four Bagatelles (1888) with their references to popular German folk melodies (the first intriguingly titled “From the Time of Pigtails”) are worth a listen for violinists seeking fresh, original works to add to their repertoire. Violinist Joseph Lin won first prize at the inaugural Michael Hill World Violin Competition in New Zealand in 2001, appears on concert stages worldwide and is currently Professor of Violin at Cornell University. His partnership with acclaimed pianist Benjamin Loeb is exceptional and the recording is clear and well-focused.



Magil
American Record Guide, January 2008

Busoni regarded his Violin Sonata 2 of 1898-1900 as his first real work, where he had established a personal style, and it is a fine sonata if not a great one. Its form is unusual having been inspired by Beethoven's Piano Sonata 30. There is a slow, sad opening movement; a brief presto; and then a long theme and variations with some interesting moments.

Sonata 1, written in 1890, is pleasant but conventional and hardly in the same class as Sonata 2. The Bagatelles of 1888 are four charming little character pieces—'From the Time of the 18th-Century Zopfstil' (that's the period in Germany between rococo and classicism), 'Little Moorish Dance', 'Viennese Dance Tune', and 'Ride of the Cossacks'.

Joseph Lin, professor of violin at Cornell, and Benjamin Loeb, piano teacher at the El Paso Conservatory of Music, play with perfect taste and technique.



Rob Cowan
Gramophone, October 2007

Early Busoni is light fare but there's real meat in the Second Sonata

"Lin and Benjamin Loeb give a fine, thoughtful reading" ..." Naxos provides very good sound and excellent notes from Richard Whitehouse."



Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, August 2007

Busoni is a good example of a composer whom Naxos is doing proud. So far largely concentrating on his earlier works, it has begun a complete piano series which has reached volume 3. Discs of orchestral music, songs, music for two pianos and his complete works for the cello and piano have also been issued. Making such by-ways of the repertoire readily available and affordable could be regarded as an international public service. This new disc also contains early works although it is worth noting that Busoni virtually stopped writing chamber and instrumental music after 1900.

The two violin sonatas are in three movements and are quite extended but the second is markedly more original. The first was written in Helsinki and is conventional in form. The opening allegro pays an audible debt to Beethoven in particular. Violinist Joseph Lin finds pathos in the central slow movement, taking the marking Molto sostenuto as literally as possible. The material for the finale which follows is, unfortunately, rather less inspired.

By the time the second sonata was composed Busoni was living in Berlin although it was premiered in Helsinki by Viktor Nováček with the composer at the piano. During the 1890s he had been preoccupied with his career as a virtuoso pianist but now feeling that he had found his voice as a composer Busoni declared the work to be “his real opus one”. Structurally, it turns the form book upside down with two slow movements flanking a central tarantella taken at Presto and lasting a mere two and half minutes. This movement is the only Italian footprint on the disc – all the rest bears out Busoni’s adopted Germanic heritage. The first movement is even marked Langsam while the extended finale is a set of variations which follows the tarantella without a break.

The bagatelles which conclude the disc are brief but pleasant diversions – perhaps another way of saying they were allotted appropriate titles. Each has an underlying theme which Busoni takes and develops a little further. No one is likely to fail to spot the Viennese Dance Tune of the third bagatelle, although picking the composer might be more of a challenge.

Joseph Lin’s tone is pleasing and he receives excellent support from Benjamin Loeb. The performances are dedicated and have been sympathetically recorded. There are informative liner-notes are by Richard Whitehouse.

As previous reviewers have found for most of the discs cited above, Busoni’s cause is very well served.



Evan Dickerson
MusicWeb International, July 2007

In my review of the Naxos disc featuring Busoni’s songs, I highlighted the label’s ongoing commitment to exploring this performer-composer’s output. I also questioned what we should accept as Busoni’s most representative compositions. Ultimately I found the songs unsatisfying fare. This led me to suggest that Busoni’s virtuoso piano transcriptions or operas might be where his compositional heart lay. The latest Naxos release concentrates on his writing for violin and piano duet. Perhaps this will offer further insights into a singularly complex yet inexplicably ignored compositional voice.

The performances on this disc sound to be of somewhat higher quality than those on the song disc. Joseph Lin is a committed violinist and Benjamin Loeb has his work cut out with the equally demanding piano part.

The First Sonata clearly demonstrates the influence of Austro-German Romantic composition upon Busoni throughout its three movements. Richard Whitehouse, in his accompanying notes, says the work is “untypical” of its composer, but comments that “its musical attractions are yet considerable”. Major aspects of Lin and Loeb’s performance draw the listener into the work. The momentum of movement 1 indicates just the right balance of mood between determination and cheerful agreement. The second movement is more withdrawn in character but a richly lyrical vein of writing is not sidelined by either composer or performers. The closing movement reverts towards the sound world of the first, but proves slightly more driven in overall terms. Throughout the work, the natural recorded balance captures both performers faithfully. The piano might appear at a slight distance momentarily, but together the two artists present a strong reading of this imposing music, fully aware of the influences that bear upon it.

The Second Sonata, which Busoni considered his “real op. 1”, can sound to an extent like an inverted version of the first, having lengthy slow outer movements framing a brief yet unabashedly virtuosic presto middle movement. The first movement finds Lin’s sinuous delivery of the violin line often heard against a dappled piano backdrop, from which both parts grow in intensity without ever becoming over-forced. The tarantella second movement is a brilliant flash in the pan, calling for playing of technical command from both players. This is achieved with flow and care in shaping both parts, so that not only major episodes of grandeur register but the half-light seconds of wit also do. Without a break, it’s straight into the third movement – a near twenty-minute theme and variations. The theme is drawn from Busoni’s beloved Bach: “Wie wohl ist mir”, a chorale found in the Anna Magdalena notebook. The variations explore a great contrast of moods and form, from the ruminative to the more demonstrative forms of march, moto perpetuo and fugue. The closing coda might be somewhat subdued compared to all that has gone before but it achieves a sense of suggestive integration with the opening movements to fully complete the work.

The Naxos disc does not present the first release of Busoni’s violin sonatas on CD. Rob Barnett favourably reviewed a 2004 release on the Finlandia label which included a youthful sonata from the ten year old composer alongside the more mature works. Naxos could have accommodated this early work on their disc too had they wished to, in addition to the Bagatelles they have provided. Slight they might be in length, but not in terms of the technical skill required. Stylistically they form a diverse set of character pieces which underline once again Busoni’s skill in adapting the material of others to suit his own ends. Across time and place one is taken on a dizzying tour of fleeting impressions that are confidently realized in the playing of Lin and Loeb.

A disc full of enjoyable material executed with style. A true Naxos bargain.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Ferruccio Busoni changed his style of composing so many times that buying a disc of his music you have never heard before is a pure lottery. That would be true of this disc containing two seldom heard violin sonatas and the early Four Bagatelles. Starting with the first sonata we are in the musical world of Beethoven as seen through the eyes of Brahms, the music muscular, full of passion and often densely scored in the piano part. By placing the keyboard as the provider of this weight, the violin is the crowning glory, though the thematic material does not lodge itself in the memory. Busoni was twenty-four when the work was finished eight years before the second sonata in 1898. The composer described it as his 'opus 1' finding for the first time his own musical voice. Yet it proves to be a shift back in time with the outer movements more akin to Beethoven, while the third movement uses a theme by Bach, the composer who was to influence many of Busoni's later works. We find impassioned climatic moments in the style of the first sonata, though the texture of the first movement is more transparent and uncluttered. At the centre is a short and rather quirky Presto that calls for some deft playing, and to confirm his Bach credentials the movement contains a hectic fugue. The Bagatelles are all musical pictures as diverse as a Viennese Dance Tune and the Ride of the Cossacks. They were originally intended for the seven year old prodigy pianist, Egon Petri, and the style?is very much intended for children. Joseph Lin has already recorded for Naxos a disc of music by Korngold that I much enjoyed, his immaculate intonation here helps a real sense of style and flare for the music. Benjamin Loeb proves to be the forceful engine that drives the music forward, their unanimity of purpose forming an ideal duo. Not the world's greatest music, but highly enjoyable and well recorded.






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