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American Record Guide, June 2007

I can't find any record of the earlier volumes reviewed in these pages. They contained a variety of both transcriptions and original music, so this one confirms that Harden plans to continue his explorations if Naxos allows.

Ferruccio Busoni was a notable virtuoso pianist. To be effective, any artist attempting these works must have an impressive technique and the ability to take on the intellectual challenges of the composer's world as well. On the basis of what is heard here Harden has both, though his technical equipment is not of the kind to hit you over the head and drag you along all the time.

The massive Organ Toccata S 564 is in three sections and is the longest piece here. The opening Preludio sets the stage for the composer's transcription of sonority from organ to keyboard. If Harden never lets you forget the organ, he gives a freely conceived account of this part. The Adagio is stately and expressive, but the ensuing Fugue is a little too exacting and laid back. There is more color to be found than Harden is willing to give us.

Trois Morceaux Op. 4-6 are delightful pieces and handled deftly by the pianist. The Ballet Scenes 1-4 are short dance movements where you can hear the influence of other virtuoso pianists. The fourth, in the form of a concert waltz, is clearly a display vehicle for the performer, and Harden makes us succumb completely to its charms.

Tanswalzer isperformed in the piano transcription by Busoni pupil Michael von Zadora. It starts out innocently enough but soon starts shifting its harmonic and melodic interest to unexpected territories. Although a little heavier than preferred, Harden makes a convincing entertainment of the work.

The Indian Diary Book 1, is one of its composer's better-known pieces. Venturing forth into the American West, Busoni makes use of Cheyenne melody in a most creative way. If it doesn't sound particularly Indian, it is certainly pleasing to the ear. The last movement, 'Passamaquoddy dance song; The broad Mississippi', is not only a mouthful to pronounce, but must be a fair challenge to play.

Guy Rickards
International Piano, April 2007

Wolf Harden's survey of Busoni's piano music has now reached Volume 3. As in the previous two instalments he includes a big Bach transcription, here the Tocata, Adagio, and Fugue BWV564 (not BWV565 as stated on the back cover and in the booklet note - Harden included that in vol. 1). After the initial torrent of notes, the Toccata settles down but is at times a little stiff and over-deliberate (Jeni Slotchiver on Centaur achieved a much more plastic flow to the whole, but consider also Baglini) although the Adagio is very well done. Next come the charming Trois Morceaux (1883), actually a pleasant Scherzo (Op.4), a brief Prelude and Fugue(Op.5) and the first (op.6) of four Ballet Scenes, introducing a sequence of mostly early pieces with a dance connection. Harden is at his best in the Ballet Scenes (1883 - 94); No.3 is the second of the Op.30a Dance Pieces), where his lightness of touch and excellent phrasing pay dividends. So too in the late Tanzwaler, Busoni's affectionate and wry tribute to Straussian dance. This is actually a transcription of Busoni ( a case of the biter bit for once, perhaps?) by his pupil Michael von Zadora, who cut the original orchestra work's introduction, which is a shame. Harden closes with a fine account of the Indian Diary, book 1 (1915).

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Congratulations to Naxos for foregrounding the music of Busoni, a composer often thought of as 'difficult' and hard to approach. This is the third volume - my colleague Christopher Howells has reviewed the second elsewhere on this site.

The Bach transcription is an easy inroad, it has to be said. While the arrangement is undeniably expert, with the Fugue invoking huge sonorities towards the end, it is not that interventionist. Harden plays extremely well, making the Adagio an identifiably first cousin to the slow movement of the famous Italian Concerto. The Fugue is rather peaceful but active.

Of the Three Morceaux, the Scherzo - the first piece - sounds rather slow, almost as if taken at half-speed. It leads to another Prelude and Fugue, the latter an extremely skilful example of its genre. Harden's light touch informs the First Ballet Scene, his light staccato adding an appealing cheekiness to the Second. The Fourth Concert Waltz is parenthesised, 'In the Form of a Concert Waltz' and is bitter-sweet; rather darker than anything so far - especially so towards its close. The Tanzwalzer is similarly half-lit, exploring its territory even more, veering on the hallucinatory at times.

The Indian Diary is one of Busoni's most famous pieces. If it appeals you might wish to explore the Indianische Fantasie on Chandos 10302 played by Nelson Goerner on a superbly recorded disc that also includes the Brautwahl Suite. Harden finds the quirky side of the first movement ('Corn Blossom'), the sweetness of the 'Bluebird Song' and makes the final 'Passamaquoddy Dance Song' remarkably broad-shouldered.

The recording (Potton Hall) is good, if perhaps a tad light. A fascinating disc, with a value-for-money playing time.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

Ferruccio Busoni changed his colours more frequently than a chameleon, wrestling with his personal conflict between that of remaining true to the influences of the Baroque - and in particular to the music of Bach - while wishing to relate to progressive composers of his own time. Without prior knowledge you never quite know what to expect when 'discovering' his music. Born in Italy in 1866 to intensely musical parents, he made his piano debut at the age of eight, and it was as a concert performer and composer of piano music that he made his career until 1902. There was then a sudden shift to conducting and an affinity to all that was new. That he was under the spell of Bach as a teenager is evident in the typical fugue that ends the Three Morceaux , then we leap into the world of Liszt for the first two of his Ballet Scenes, often light in texture and always happy of character. Back to Bach for the first of Two Dance Pieces, which act as a foil to the salon style of the charming Fourth Ballet Scene. In the last period of his life comes the Indian Diary, a work based on a collection of North American Indian ideas, with Debussy hovering in the background. It seems an age since Wolf Harden gave us the second volume of this on-going series. His easy brilliance makes the prodigious difficulties disappear, while the densely scored arrangement of Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue is given inner clarity by nimble fingers. That fact is aided by one of the best recordings of a piano I have ever heard from Naxos or indeed from any other label.

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9:45:00 AM, 25 November 2015
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