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Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, March 2009

The Busoni transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532 is masterful. Harden is expert at the more melting passages of the Prelude. His more forthright passages—the very opening being among them—can tend towards the literal. The recording precludes any trace of harshness. The Fugue begins rather like an exercise under Harden’s fingers, but builds to an imposing, magnificently Busoni-augmented close.

The Elegies form excellent contrast. The restrained first, “Nach der Wendung” meditates hypnotically on superbly ambiguous harmonies. No mistaking the Italian flavour of “All’Italia!”—the world of Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli is never far away here. The more expressionist “Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir” is a prelude on a Lutheran chorale that sees the original transformed into Busonian mysticism. The famous “Turandots Frauengemach” (Intermezzo) uses the theme we in the UK know best as “Greensleeves”. Richard Whitehouse’s excellent notes refer to this as a “well-known and allegedly ‘Chinese’ tune”, presumably to keep the surprise for the first-time listener. The shadowy waltz of “Die Nächtlichen” is magnificently rendered here; the final elegy, “Erscheinung”, is less successful. Harden takes its fragmentary questioning too far and the piece ends up aimlessly disjunct until the final, tremolando-dominated couple of minutes. The “seventh” Elegie was itself rewritten and expanded into Berceuse élegiaque. The piece sounds like a sort of Busonian Debussy.

Busoni referred to the Fantasia we hear here as a “translation” rather than a transcription – implying there is at least as much Busoni as there is Bach. And so it proves. The chorale “Christ, du bist der Helle Tag” is treated to Busonian arpeggio decoration before another chorale, “Gorres Sohn ist kommen” (aka “In dulci jubilo”) appears, sweetly, quietly, but unmistakably. Finally, “Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott” appears as a final arrival point. The interaction between Bachian harmonies and Busonian ones is fascinating—it is as if the music moves in and out of focus.
Finally, the Toccata of 1920, written after Busoni’s return to Berlin. Contemporary with his opera, Doktor Faust, it is clearly penned in a more advanced idiom than anything we have heard so far on the disc. It requires all of Harden’s virtuosity not only to deliver the notes but also to bring across the multi-faceted states of this tripartite piece (Preludio-Fantasia-Ciaccona). In the latter stages, he feels a little pressed at times, but this is a valuable account nonetheless.

Back in 2007, I reviewed Volume 3 of this series: the Naxos Busoni series continues here in enduringly fascinating fashion. There is the by-now standard download available with every hard-copy purchase. In this case, it is the first movement of Respighi’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 16 played by Konstantin Scherbakov, from 8.553704.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, February 2009

Italian-born Ferrucio Busoni (1866–1924) was one of the great Victorian pianists. Like most of his peers, he wrote a lot of his own music. A huge fan of J.S. Bach, he inflated piles of the old master's pieces into something grand and ponderous. The fourth disc in Naxos's Busoni project is particularly interesting because it allows us to compare his version of a Bach Prelude and Fugue in D Major (BWV 532) with pieces inspired by Bach. German pianist Wolf Harden delivers convincing readings of 11 pieces in total—all posing huge technical challenges. Along the way we get Baroque echoes as well as experiments in slipperier, early 20th century tonality. This disc is a fascinating slice of piano-music history.

Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, January 2009

In this ongoing conspectus of Busoni’s piano music Wolf Harden demonstrates yet again that he has an affinity for the composer and the prestidigitatory prowess to realize it…Sound is close—onstage—and detailed in spacious openness. Informed annotations by Richard Whitehouse provide context.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

Born in 1866 into a mixed German and Italian family, Ferruccio Busoni made his debut as a pianist at the age of eight and by the age of ten had composed his first published works. His income was to come from the life as a concert pianist, his compositional time being largely devoted to the piano transcriptions of Bach’s organ music published in seven substantial volumes. He was already forty when he found that he was enjoying a growing demand as a conductor of modern music, and it was at this juncture that he began to open his own music to a much wider influence. There followed scores that were modern, complex and requiring virtuosity from the performer. Buying any disc of his music involves knowing which side of this massive divide you are about to hear. This release is the perfect example, as following on a rather boring adaptation of Bach’s BWV 532 Prelude and Fugue, we have the six Elegien composed in 1907 and described by the composer as the point when he discovered his new identity. Tuneful - the fourth elegy containing the melody British listeners will know as “Greensleeves” - these are works of a light, charming and at times pixilated quality, eventually arriving in more dramatic mode with the sixth. They do not make the big virtuoso demands of his later piano scores, but require much dexterity. Having completed the six pieces, Busoni later added a Berceuse as the seventh.That came only two years later, but already points to his personal view of 20th century modernism. A Fantasia after J.S. Bach, reshapes the Baroque into a new era, the disc closing with the celebrated Toccata, a score from 1920 of incredible difficulty.The soloist is Wolf Harden, a pianist who has yet to receive the full approbation that his immense talents deserve. When required he is a powerhouse performer of the highest rank, yet as we hear here, he is a pianist who can create moments of quiet and magical beauty. Just listen to the Toccata to experience quiet virtuosity.The UK recording is in the superlative class.

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