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Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, May 2010

The music of Busoni is demanding but rewards exploration. One hopes that his star is once more in the ascendant. The dark 1850 transcription of the Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” is magnificent. The piano’s burnished lower registers evoke the majesty of the King of Instruments, while Wolf Harden’s keening, almost reverent way with the contrasting plateaux is most effective. The extended (8:47) ruminations of the central Adagio are here almost trance-inducing; they serve to prepare for a Fugue that is a journey of technical rigour combined with huge technical demands. Harden meets all challenges head-on and fearlessly, according the resonant climax a stirring grandeur.

 The Sonata in F minor is an early work. It is well crafted and finds a staunch advocate in Wolf Harden. Although grand, the first movement’s ideas do not quite justify its length—a touch under nine minutes. One can hear a questing voice here, one that enjoys counterpoint, but we are way off music that justifies regular revisits. The central Andante con moto is again rather low on inspiration, its harmonies rather too undifferentiated and veering into what we would now call easy listening. The introduction to the finale, in the manner of an improvisation, is certainly the most intriguing music so far in its unashamed use of disjointed gestures.

Immediately more sophisticated is the Prélude of the final work featured here, the late Prélude et étude en arpèges. The level of craftsmanship is significantly raised. The inclusion of a transcription, an early and a late work is what makes this disc such a satisfying experience if heard all the way through at once.

I look forward keenly to future instalments.

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, March 2010

Having given an affirmative review to Volume 3 on these pages (8.570249 ), I came to this volume with reasonable expectations. Any pianist who takes on the challenge of Busoni’s piano music in an extended series has got to have a technique of impressive proportions. Harden, best known as the founder of the Trio Fontenay, certainly fills the bill.

Franz Liszt’s massive organ work on Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam is heard in Busoni’s splendid transcription from 1897. Although it does sometimes show up in recitals, it’s a brave pianist who attempts to hold an audience with the dense textures, rhetorical gestures, and intellectual discipline of this music. It can be a great experience in the right hands, and Harden embraces the demands with clarity, depth, and feeling. The central Adagio is Liszt at his expressive best.

The Piano Sonata in F minor by the teenage Busoni is a mightily impressive accomplishment. As the notes point out, it owes something in technique to Anton Rubinstein, but seems to range all over the place and points the way towards Busoni’s future style. The best movement of this goliath of a sonata is the Andante con moto. It is bathed in a late romantic radiance that Harden captures exquisitely. The closing movement is almost improvisational in sound until the start of the final neo-classical fugue. It is surprising that this music is not more often heard, though it does take almost a half hour.

Closing the program is the Prelude and Etude in Arpeggios. This dates from 1923 and is one of Busoni’s last works. It is somewhat impressionist and sometimes ambiguous as to tonality. At the low Naxos price, and given the unusual repertory, purchase would seem to be mandatory for Busoni enthusiasts. The notes are good, and the recording clear.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

The sixth volume of this highly important recorded anthology of Ferruccio Busoni’s complete piano music contains two massive scores. The Piano Sonata in F minor was composed when he was just seventeen and at the beginning of a career as a touring virtuoso pianist, a life that he despised in later years as vainglorious and empty. The immense love of Bach and the influences of Brahms is apparent throughout, yet the overriding ingredient was the ease with which he found readily attractive melodic ideas, at times almost tossing them away. True, the structure is rather that of a student who had yet to develop his own style, but a second movement, that almost leans towards salon music, is as intrinsically beautiful as anything written for the keyboard at the end of the 19th century. If the final fugue is of finger-knotting complexity, the challenges the work poses are slight when compared with the transcription of the Liszt Fantasy and Fugue, a work originally composed for large organ. If the Fantasy is well within the scope of the piano, you begin to think two pianists must be involved in the final fugue. Wolf Harden has already flexed his virtuoso fingers in earlier volumes and is again in stunning form, every strand of the fugue so clearly defined. The disc is completed by the Prelude and Fugue in arpeggios, a score of considerable delicacy even in the fugal conclusion, at times Debussy hovering in the background. In sum this is another masterpiece in a much desired series, the sound quality from John Taylor being among the most realistic piano discs I have encountered.

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