Wolf Harden: Busoni, Piano Music, Vol. 10

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As Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan famously wrote of Jimmy’s harmonica, it “soothed the souls of psychos and the men who had the horn”, and this programme of piano music has the same effect. It’s calming.

A man with an appellation to rival Mr MacGowan, Dante Michelangeli Benvenuto Ferruccio Busoni was born at Empoli near Florence on 1st April 1866. He was clearly a genius; he made his concert debut in 1874 at the age of eight.

He was possibly a little difficult, too; the child of two professional musicians, he described his dad’s pianoforte playing as “erratic in rhythm”, but that he made up for these shortcomings with an “indescribable combination of energy, severity and pedantry.”

Busoni was so good he did not have to be a pedant. Musicologist Donald Tovey said Busoni was “an absolute purist in not confining himself strictly to Mozart’s written text”, that is, Mozart himself could have taken similar liberties. When you’re being compared to Mozart, you’re pretty good.

The pieces on here are transcriptions of works by JS Bach, Brahms, Cramer, Liszt and Mozart. The sleeve notes say the essence of Busoni’s music lies in its “synthesis of Italian and German ancestry: emotion and intellect, the imaginative and the rigorous” and that’s about it really; the music touches the emotion and is calming, while Wolf Harden, who apparently champions the composer, makes light of what sounds very technical playing.

A nice collection that should appeal to all lovers of the piano, especially you psychos and men with the horn.

Out now on Naxos, 8573806

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