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Dip Your Ears, No. 82 (Chamber Busoni)

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F. Busoni, Wks. for Cello & Piano,
Duo Pepicelli

Busoni - Ferrucio Benvenuto Busoni (1866-1924) - might be best known for his Bach transcriptions that offer pianists genial versions of a rather romantic Bach to play. One might be excused to think that his name is, hyphenated, "Bach-Busoni". There are probably more recordings of his Bach transcriptions in the catalogs than "just-Busoni". But this highly Germanic Italian composer who straddled the musical times between romanticism and atonality - not with unease but with little lasting success, much like Max Reger (1873-1916) - has much to offer. Forty years ago, his transcriptions were not mentioned in his 55-word lexicon entry, but his pianism is (after all, Busoni was hailed as the "most perfect" pianist of his time - often compared to Franz Liszt) - as are his four most important operas: "Turandot", "Arlecchino", "Die Brautwahl", and "Dr. Faust".

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Doktor Faust - Leitner

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Doktor Faust - Nagano
The splendid "Dr. Faust" is not easily had - Warner has pulled its fine Nagano (Dietrich Henschel, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) recording (with prologue) and Deutsche Grammophon also has yet to re-issue its star-studded (Franz Grundheber, Hans Sotin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau et al.) Karl Leitner recording (without prologue). A shame, because along with Pfitzner's "Palestrina" and Schreker's "Die Gezeichneten", it is among the finest 'German' non-Strauss operas of the 20th century. But Naxos is tackling Busoni's creative and re-creative œuvre disc by disc. One of the recent gems in this series is his complete works for Cello and Piano. Kleine Suite ("Little Suite"), op.23, Serenata, op.34, and Kultaselle (Ten Variations on a Finnish Folksong), are included - as are his Liszt transcription of the Valse oubliée and the substantial Piano and Cello version of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.

This neatly encompasses his two main musical influences in Bach and Liszt (although Busoni well explored the limits of tonality before settling on his intriguing 'neo-classicism' style) which shine through even in the echt-Busoni Suite which, though not a transcription, is illuminated by Bach, from the inside. Terribly charming in its melancholic, structured, and undeniably romantic way, it is rightly at the heart of this recording by the brothers Angelo (piano) and Francesco (cello) of the epomymous Duo Pepicelli. As should be expected, the piano carries its own throughout all of Busoni's cello works and the artists perform to the highest standards... even if there remains the desire to hear some of the works played by two fiery soloists together.

The Serenata is Busoni-Busoni - a work he transcribed himself from the last movement of his clarinet suite op.10. It's far from mature Busoni, but in the transcribed form it already hints at some of the delicious complexities with which Busoni achieved to contemporary baffle ears, even if today most would find these earlier ventures rather tame. Thankfully, tameness does not go to the discredit of a work if it manages to be quite so pleasing. To fill out the disc a little beyond the 50-some available minutes of Busoni for that genre, Naxos added Busoni's contemporary and compatriot Ottorino Respighi to the mix - with his early (and later transcribed for cello and orchestra) Adagio con variazioni. Just like all of the Busoni works on this disc, I should be delighted to find it sticking its head out of any Piano/Cello recital - perhaps as a little respite between one stern Beethoven sonata and another. Until that takes place, Naxos' recording will serve as a most pleasing stopgap.

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