Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)

Monday, September 5, 2022

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

The Schoenberg (Transfigured Night, Opus 4; 1899, string sextet/1943, string orchestra) found the Santa Cecilia strings (solo and tutti, from left-positioned basses to right-of-conductor second violins) in wonderfully dynamic, colourful and expressive form in response to Antonio Pappano’s expansive, intense and dramatic conducting of music reflecting Richard Dehmel’s eponymous poem: Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood; / the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze. / The moon moves along above tall oak trees, / there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance / to which the black, jagged tips reach up. / A woman’s voice speaks: / “I am carrying a child, and not by you. [Etc.] All ends happily as the couple reconcile under moonlight, and this performance brought out all the music’s emotions and descriptions in the most vivid way; many subtleties too, some details new to me, and with a wide range of volumes.

As for Busoni’s Concerto per un pianoforte principale e diversi strumenti ad arco a fiato ed a percussione: aggiuntovi un coro finale per voci d’uomini a sei parti, anno MCMIV, opera XXXIX (1904; Opus 39), it’s a large-scale, five-movement creation:

  1. Prologo e Introito: Allegro, dolce e solenne
  2. Pezzo giocoso
  3. Pezzo serioso: Introductio: Andante sostenuto / Prima pars: Andante, quasi adagio / Altera pars: Sommessamente / Ultima pars: a tempo
  1. All’Italiana: Tarantella: Vivace; In un tempo
  2. Cantico: Largamente.

The lengthy hymn-like orchestral introduction heralds the soloist’s limbering-up arpeggios and scales before the virtuoso writing really kicks in (Busoni was himself a distinguished pianist, who can be heard on recordings), Igor Levit as delicate as he was muscular, some beguiling woodwind contributions, and then a dazzling account of the mercurial second movement, leading to the space and depth of the ‘serioso’ third – intimate, poetic, dark orchestral colours – with an angst-ridden climax or two, riposted by the rumbustious and scintillating ‘Tarantella’, Italian music by an Italian, the orchestra as busy as the pianist, and Levit’s fingers were tireless, the music becoming a carnival, poised timpani solo, building to what would be a tremendous ending, but the music halts and fades for the choral conclusion, men’s voices singing words from Adam Oehlenschläger’s verse drama Aladdin, sung here with dignity and unified tone, pianist as spectator before Levit joined in with a further keyboard skirmish. The performance of this continuous work played for the average seventy minutes but there was nothing average about this searching and sizzling rendition. Given both Levit and Pappano record for Sony Classical, maybe a recording of this compelling one-off Concerto is in the pipeline.

Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the LSO in music by Italian composers written across the centuries – Giovanni Gabrieli, Vivaldi, Goffredo Petrassi, Puccini & Victor de Sabata [BBC Radio 3 recording].