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Monday, March 27, 2017

Ferruccio Busoni - Late Piano Music (Marc-André Hamelin)


Composer: Ferruccio Busoni

  • (01-07) Elegies, BV 249
  • (08) Nuit de Noël, BV 251
  • (09) Fantasia after J. S. Bach, BV 253
  • (10) Canonic Variations and Fugue, BV B40
  • (11) Giga, bolero e variazione (Book 3 of 'An die Jugend', BV 254)
  • (01) Sonatina, BV 257
  • (02) Sonatina Seconda, BV 259
  • (03-07) Sonatina 'ad usum infantis Madeline M* Americanae', BV 268
  • (08) Sonatina 'in diem nativitatis Christi MCMXVII', BV 274
  • (09) Sonatina brevis 'in signo Joannis Sebastiani Magni', BV 280
  • (10) Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen, BV 284
  • (11) Indianisches Erntelied
  • (12-15) Indianisches Tagebuch I, BV 267
  • (16-18) 3 Albumleaves, BV 289
  • (01) Toccata: Preludio, Fantasia, Ciaccona, BV 287
  • (02) Prologo, BV 279
  • (03-09) 7 Practices from Klavierübung
  • (10) Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude (in C minor, Op. 28 No. 20), BV 213a
  • (11-17) 7 Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing, BV 296
  • (18) Perpetuum mobile, BV 293
  • (19-20) Prélude et étude en arpèges, BV 297

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Date: 2013
Label: Hyperion




Ninety years have passed since Ferruccio Busoni’s death in 1924, and his original piano works remain box-office poison, although they’ve proliferated on disc. Recent recordings include several all-Busoni discs by Roland Pontinen on CPO along with Wolf Harden’s ongoing complete Busoni cycle for Naxos. Now we have Marc-André Hamelin’s three-disc survey devoted to the composer’s late pieces. It easily claims reference status, not just because of Hamelin’s celebrated technical proficiency, but also for his scrupulous, enlightening musical details.

Comparative observations illuminate my point. For example, the composer Thomas Adès made a lovely, sensitive recording of the Sonatina Ad Usum Infantis for EMI, and he plays the concluding Polonaise movement with lilting delicacy. However, Hamelin’s slightly faster tempo, more distinct articulation of slurs and staccatos, and observation of rests for their correct durations better convey the Polonaise’s rhythmic essence.

Busoni’s tendency to inflate miniatures by other composers with serious-minded and unnecessary padding begat the Giga, Boléro e Variazione from An Die Jugend, which basically refuses to leave Mozart’s ingeniously cross-rhythmic and succinct Eine kleine Gigue alone. Hamelin’s crisp and headlong performance makes the music’s most compelling recorded case; compare, for instance, Hamelin’s swagger and inhumanly even trills in the Boléro alongside Harden’s slower, heavier version and you’ll hear why. Hamelin’s quietly deft manipulation of light and shade liberates the seven Elegies from a long tradition of dour, mushy performances and brings welcome vibrancy to the Indian Diary’s four movements, from the opening Allegretto’s controlled rubato to the hair-trigger definition of the finale’s rapid arpeggiated chords.

Much as I admire Pontinen’s rock-solid suavity in the Perpetuum mobile, Hamelin’s brisker tempo and more pointed accents win the day. His pliable treatments of the Seven Polyphonic Pieces differ from Paul Jacobs’ more reserved classicism. If anything, the (relatively) familiar Sixth Sonatina based on themes from Bizet’s Carmen receives a suppler, more spontaneous reading than in Hamelin’s excellent yet comparatively square June, 1994 Wigmore Hall Hyperion recording. The opening section’s canonic writing is perfectly contoured between the hands, while the textural interweaving in the Flower Song and in the gorgeous descending chromatic harmonization of the Fate Motive emerges as if several pianos and at least two players were involved. In other words, finally here’s a modern Carmen Fantasy recording worthy of mention alongside the first three commercial 78 rpm editions by Claudio Arrau, Michael von Zadora, and Egon Petri. In short, this is a valuable addition to the Busoni discography and to Hamelin’s ever expanding, standard-setting Hyperion legacy.

-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Ferruccio Busoni (1 April 1866 – 27 July 1924) was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and piano teacher. Busoni was an outstanding (if sometimes controversial) pianist from an early age. He began composing in his early years in a late romantic style, and later developed a more individual style, often with elements of atonality. Busoni's impact on music was perhaps more through those who studied piano and composition with him, and through his writings on music, than through his compositions themselves, of whose style there are no direct successors.


Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.


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  2. Oh' quelle aubaine! C'est vraiment un cadeau de très grand prix que vous nous faites là! Je vous remercie au nom de tous les amateurs de piano.