Busoni: Music For Two Pianos / Schiller, Humphreys

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The Fantasia contrappuntistica 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 András 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 punctus contra punctus 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?where 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.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8557443

  • UPC: 747313244324

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Ferruccio Busoni

  • Performer: Allan Schiller, John Humphreys