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Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, January 2007

The Fantasia eontrappuntistiea is a tough nut for performers and listeners alike, though more approachable for both in its two-piano version, made in 1922. It is rarely attempted and, arguably, its most compelling interpretations-manic hysteria projected by the young Peter Serkin and Richard Goode (LP, Columbia MS 6891) and dreamlike radiance divined by Ursula Oppens and the late Paul Jacobs (LP, Nonesuch 79061)--were left behind in the Silver Rush. CD-era accounts have tended toward the cautious and pedantic; for instance, Ronald Stevenson and Joseph Banowetz's oddly muted take (Altarus AIR-CD-9044) or Serkin's stiffly maundering re-make with Andras Schiff (ECM New Series 1676/77). Schiller and Humphreys, on the other hand, are briskly paced while evincing a tonal warmth in which Busoni's punetus contra punetus lifts lyrically into invitation, ingratiation, and, at moments, exhilaration, if at the cost of leaving his astounding play of parts under-articulated. A similar approach informs the Mozart arrangements-the relaxation of contrapuntal rigor (brilliantly incisive leading parts against barely audible subsidiary detail) is the duo's tradeoff for tonal finesse rather than the fault of Naxos's close, balanced sound. Details of Busoni's attentions, by the way-elisions and occasional recomposition-and their rationale may be found in Larry Sitsky's Busoni and the Piano (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), a beguiling and invaluable companion that no one who cares for this fare should be without. Schiller and Humphreys do as well as anyone with the Improvisation on "Wie wohl ist mir. " Composed in 1914 during a stay with Marchese Silvio delle Valle di Casanova on Lago Maggiore┬şwhere the Futurist Umberto Boccioni painted the familiar portrait of Busoni reproduced on the album cover-the Improvisation is a recomposition of the final movement of Busoni's Second Violin Sonata, completed in 1900, that is, the ripest late Romanticism, from the vantage of Busoni's final and decisive "turning point" toward the compact, laconic, visionary Modernism of his last decade. The upshot is curious, mixed, and interesting rather than persuasive. Schiller and Humphreys do as well as anyone with it and better than most by giving the heterogeneous elements their head, so to speak, as they arise. Despite the reservations noted, this collection affords abundant pleasure and is enthusiastically recommended.

John Holmes
Fine Music, July 2006

Apart from his arrangements of Bach organ pieces, little is heard these days of the music of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924). His huge piano concerto, which has a male chorus included in its finale, and the incomplete opera Doctor Faustus, are his two monumental works, but despite his formidable musical intellect, he deigned to write a work that had sufficient popular appeal that would have it find a place in the regular concert repertoire - like Dukas managed with L'Apprenti sorcier and Lalo with Symphonie espagnole. On this disc we have four pieces written for two pianos: Fantasia Contrappuntistica, Improvisation on the Bach Chorale 'Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seele', Fantasie für eine Orgelwafze (Mozart/Busoni), and Duettino Concertante nach Mozart, of which the first is the major work. It is an attempt by Busoni to complete the last fugue of Bach's Art of Fugue, and it saw four versions until the final one, or two pianos, was published in 1923. A huge, complex 28-minute work, I for one find it interesting and holding my attention. To put it shortly, it is fine music, worth knowing. The Fantasia Contrappuntistica has been recorded a few times, but the only recording I have at hand is the old US Columbia mono LP with the big-name pianists Peter Serkin and Richard Goode. Frankly, I prefer Schiller and Humphries on this new Naxos, as their performance is more forthright and presents the work more decisively. I have no reservations about the recording per se. The other three works on the Naxos CD are also interesting; the Duettino is a whimsical arrangement of the finale of Mozart's Piano Concerto in F major, K.459. If you would like to explore worthwhile music off the beaten track, in a pre-Schoenbergian idiom, this CD will please you.

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