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Busoni Songs

Martin Bruns - baritone / Ulrich Eisenlohr - piano

 

Naxos 8.557245

Recorded September/October 2004 1 CD 67.34 minutes

 

Zwei Lieder Op 31; Album Vocale Op 30; Zwei altdeutsche Lieder Op 18 No 1; Hebraische Lieder Op 15; Zwei Lieder Op 24; Des Sangers Fluch Op 39; Goethe-Lieder; Reminiscenza Rossiniana

Busoni's genius was immediately recognised by his instrumentalist parents, he made an early debut as concert pianist, and throughout his life he occupied a position of influence in musical circles. He was a tireless champion of the music of Liszt, wrote countless piano arrangements and transcriptions, as a conductor he favoured the music of his contemporaries and gave many important premieres, and towards the end of his life developed an interest in writing opera.

 

He produced a mere 40 songs for voice and piano and these have generally been under-represented in the catalogue. The 18 included on this CD are the most significant, and three receive their world premiere recordings, including the most substantial item Des Sangers Fluch.

On the evidence of this collection, it would appear that Busoni was interested not so much in the intrinsic merit of the poetic texts he chose, but in the opportunities they afforded for a show pianist to mimic other instruments (we hear a couple of lutes, a harp and even a barrel organ) and to unfold the narrative, producing what amounts to a piano transcription of the words. A frequently occurring device is for a solo piano introduction or interlude to sketch out a section of the poem, with the singer's words following almost by way of a confirmatory statement.

 

So, there is a great deal to interest the listener on this disc, and it makes a thoroughly enjoyable recital, with plenty of contrast. It is well worthwhile to download and print the texts and translations from Naxos' website. The songs in the Italian language are lightest in tone, and the setting of von Reuenthal's 13 th century poem has an attractive hint of saltarello in the instrumental line. The Hebrew Songs, set to Busoni's own translations of poems by Byron, are heavily emotional, and the extended narrative ballad The Singer's Curse belongs to the genre of Gothic Horror.

 

All these are relatively early compositions. The five Goethe settings are works of maturity. They were written at the time that Busoni was working on his opera Doktor Faust and share similarly dark sentiments. The final item, a tribute both to Rossini and his friend and biographer Edward Dent, is a delightful bagatelle.

 

Performances are of all round excellence. Greatest demand is made on the pianist, and Ulrich Eisenlohr meets these challenges superbly in true virtuoso style. Martin Bruns has a strong and well rounded voice, his diction is excellent, though perhaps he sounds a shade determined in the Italian texts. But that is a mere quibble, this is an agreeable and well put together recording, which makes an important addition to Naxos ' growing Busoni listing.

 

Serena Fenwick