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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.

Mark Koldys
American Record Guide, March 2010

Sir Arthur Bliss composed music for eight films, though only one (Things to Come) is well remembered today. It was Muir Mathieson who encouraged Bliss to write for the cinema, as he did many other distinguished British composers, including Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Malcolm Arnold.

The 1949 production of Christopher Columbus was a vehicle for Frederic March, but its cast of American and British actors wasn’t very Hispanic. Bliss decided to use “Spanish idioms and tunes akin to those of Spain” to compensate, along with touches of guitar, harpsichord, and percussion. It still sounds like Bliss, but that’s not a bad thing! That said, it would make a far better impression if the orchestra didn’t sound so timid. The brass are uncertain and tentative from the first measures.

The two worlds in Men of Two Worlds are Europe and Africa. The unlikely story line involves an immigrant from Africa who studies music in Europe, writes a piano concerto, then returns to his homeland to battle rampant disease and witchcraft. Bliss researched and supposedly incorporated East African idioms, though the four fragments presented are rather conventional. The Concert Piece Baraza (adapted from the film’s concerto) is more interesting, with a distant male chorus representing the African element. The keyboard part isn’t particularly challenging, but its unusual exotic flavor is enticing.

Adriano’s notes praise three pieces from the lifeboat drama Seven Waves Away as “magnificent, powerful music” worthy of a place in the orchestral repertoire. The first two are lively but quite short; the Marcia Funebre builds to a not very funereal but impressively British climax.

The sound is first rate.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

Having achieved so much success with his film score, Things to Come, it was strange that Arthur Bliss was invited to compose so little for the cinema. In fact this disc contains almost everything of importance that remained, his only other acknowledged score accompanying the naive and totally unbelievable 1949 lavish film presentation of Christopher Columbus. From that manuscript the arranger and conductor of this disc, Adriano, has extracted ten sections containing all of the continuous music from the film, though omitting scene-setting fragments. Having studied the film sound track it became obvious that Bliss made changes to the music while it was being recorded for the soundtrack, and these have been incorporated in the performance. Adriano’s suite follows the film’s chronological action, and at the same time offers a nicely contrasted work. As the film Seven Waves Away disappeared quickly after its release, the true extent of Bliss’s score is not known, and in later life he was equally vague as to its content. The three surviving sections recorded here show Bliss in fine form. We then have four excerpts from Men of Two Worlds, which is about all that survived, though the ‘piano concerto’, which forms part of the story, was later recorded and released on Decca. It is a pleasing ‘pop’ classic and here forms a separate track that is very well played by Silvia Capova. The 1990 recordings were first issued on the Marco Polo label, the Slovak Radio Symphony sounding very assured in unfamiliar music. Not in any way part of the British music scene, but for film buffs and Bliss admirers it is a ‘must have’ release.

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