With a fair wind, this important and impressive release should go some way to rehabilitating the unjustly neglected music of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), a celebrated pianist of his day (there are recorded examples); indeed, no less than Claudio Arrau (1903-91) remained of the opinion that Busoni was the greatest pianist he had ever heard.

Peter Donohoe (he has previously documented Busoni’s outsize Concerto for EMI/Warner, Mark Elder conducting) is in magnificent form for Chandos (there are many demanding technical challenges) and he is superbly recorded by Jonathan Cooper at Potton Hall. Furthermore, the booklet contains an exemplary essay by Antony Beaumont as well as an introduction by Donohoe.

It’s Busoni’s music that matters, though: personal, compelling, unpredictable, yet rigorous as he (sometimes) explores ambiguous tonalities. Busoni’s music can scintillate – try the fast music of the Toccata, which has a rhythmic panache worthy of Bartók or Prokofiev, and its slower middle section experiments in a manner that gives Busoni honorary membership of the Second Viennese School. Not forbidding though, and anyway, in his Sonatina super Carmen, Busoni has his way with Bizet’s operatic tunes. Good also to have one of Busoni’s Bach transcriptions, here the for-organ Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (BWV564), majestic and sonorous from Donohoe as he opens-up the dynamics.

The big opus is Elegien, a cycle of seven pieces that is far more varied and surprising than a series of elegies might suggest. When at its most commensurate with the title though, Busoni’s music is profound, searching his soul, and ours, to divine effect, free yet controlled.

Maybe there will be a follow-up Busoni/Donohoe release, to include Fantasia contrappuntistica. Here’s hoping…


Sarabande & Cortège – Two Studies for, and from, Busoni’s opera Doktor Faust; Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Feb 1971).