Busoni is not exactly an over-recorded composer and
the present disc ushers two works into the catalogue for the first time
- that is until someone tells me otherwise.
Black arts, the supernatural and wizardry of the three
hour opera Die Brautwahl made me think of the early German expressionist
cinema: Der Golem and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Busoni,
wishing to rescue some vivid music from the oblivion into which Brautwahl
fell after its first six performances at the Hamburg Opera, created
a five movement suite. This was premiered in Berlin on 3 January 1913
by Berlin PO/Oskar Fried. Busoni conducted it with the LSO at London's
Queen's Hall on 22 June 1920.
The Suite: 1. sample
Ghostly Music: reeks with the influences of Dukas, Berlioz and
even early Mahler (first symphony). 2. sample
Lyric Music is affecting with a touch of Schreker and, over
a barely audible pizzicato, a resilient string theme skating over the
edge of bathos into John Barry territory without quite falling into
the pit. Busoni handles his fine invention with delicacy and no hint
of fatigue. 3. sample Mystic
Piece is druidic - akin to John Ireland's Forgotten Rite (exactly
contemporaneous) mixed with Rachmaninov's Isle Of The Dead, La
Valse and Valse Triste. 4. sample
Hebrew Music veers between sobriety and distrait emotionalism.
Some wonderfully dry brass playing is to be heard amid all the Faustian
wraiths. 5.sample Joyous Music:
This brief toboggan ride of a movement, flits and effervesces: wind-blown,
Hungarian (the similarity is to Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra)
Geharnischte Suite (The Armoured Suite) is in
four movements (premiered in 8 October 1897) and is not linked to any
opera. Busoni's spell (1888-1890) in Helsinki, then Helsingfors, brought
him into contact with Sibelius and his circle. The four movements are
dedicated to the friends of Lesko ('Den Leskowiten' in the score). Lesko
was Busoni's dog. The booklet includes a photograph of Busoni with Lesko.
The movements are: 1. sample
Sibelius; 2. sample Adolf Paul
(the playwright whose works were furnished with incidental music by
Sibelius); 3. sample Armas Järnefelt
(he of Praeludium fame); 4 sample
Eero Järnefelt (Armas's brother).
The 'armour' of the title relates to the chivalric scene
and can be equated with the shivered lances, metal-laden destriers and
gleaming heroism of Elgar's Froissart Overture. For all this,
Busoni's suite is frequently lighter in mood than the Elgar: Gallic
and jolly - not at all Lutheran. The Grabdenkmal third movement
is earnest with Sibelian eddies (symphony 1 and Kullervo, En
Saga) and Brucknerian surges. This processional also links with
Havergal Brian's In Memoriam. The Ansturm is as bellicose
as Szymanowski's Concert Overture and as cheeky as Schwanda
the Bagpiper though not as overblown as the Szymanowski. As remission
from this mood there is a memorable interlude of wood-magic (which has
nothing to do with assaults!) with wonderful hushed strings over the
lightest brass staccato.
The playing of the Timisoara Orchestra is clean though
not always totally as fluent as the music seems to demand. A greater
luxuriance amongst the strings would have been desirable but there is
nothing here to cause offence and much to reward.
An easily recommendable disc and one that bids fair
to remind us of a little considered corner of the musical treasury.