Monday, 7 September 2009

Busoni Plays!

I know I'm not alone in this neck of the blogscape in being a Busoni fan. He is, of course, widely regarded as a 'god of the piano', but, as he died in 1924, I'd taken it for granted that any surviving recordings, however much cleaned up and 'digitally remastered', would give little idea of his playing. What I'd reckoned without was the Duo-Art recording piano, an ultra-sophisticated reproducing piano that created rolls which, by a complex and painstaking process, recreated a performance with astonishing accuracy. When modern technology is applied to reproducing what is on those rolls and recording it, the result is very much like listening to a CD - but a CD recorded 80 years ago. A label called Grand Piano specialises in these recordings, and I have got my hands on a CD of Busoni playing Liszt, Chopin and his own mighty transcription of the Bach Chaconne. The Liszt is often breathtaking, Busoni going beyond mere virtuosity to create soundscapes that scarcely seem to belong to the piano at all - as he does from time to time with the Chopin, though he has an unusually robust approach there, reflecting his professed mixed feelings about the composer. As for the Chaconne, I guess it has to be respected as definitive, but I can't say it's my favourite performance. Anyway, if it's virtuosity you want, try this... It too is from a roll, though the YouTube commenters seem to have difficulty believing it - or that it's Busoni. Isn't it wonderful - and pleasingly retroprogressive - that such a 'primitive' technology, which crashed out of favour around 1930, should be able to deliver such results today?


  1. Yes, yes, but where is your blog bricolage word-connection?

    Is it "his" and "is"?

  2. It's 'and', Brit - surprised you didn't spot that...

  3. Of course! You crafty old devil, Nige. Worthy of one of Dan Brown's cryptic conundra.