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Busoni


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Author Topic: Busoni  (Read 133 times)
ahinton
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« on: December 03, 2016, 06:05:16 pm »

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084cpk8#play

It's only taken BBC just over 8 months to commemorate the composer's 150th anniversary but at least it's done so now.

Some good things indeed but the musical examples were almost embarrassingly brief.

But the Piano Concerto at 80 minutes? Most performances and recordings are around the 70 minute mark! There was one recording that distended it to almost 90, about which the less said the better...

Any thoughts?
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2016, 07:22:07 pm »

The two recordings I have are by John Ogden (68 minutes) and by Marc-Andre Hamelin (73 minutes). The huge and exceptionally ambitious concerto needs to be kept going and I think both of these master pianists (well supported by their respective orchestras) do just that, maintaining momentum and interest.

It is a wonderful piece and the first entry of the piano four minutes in is simply amazing! As I recall very few pianists could tackle its demands until Ogden revived it in that historic recording from 1967.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2016, 10:30:30 am »

As I recall very few pianists could tackle its demands until Ogden revived it in that historic recording from 1967.

It is frequently asserted that the "extreme" length of this concerto contributed to its lack of popularity in the decades following its premiere. [The suggestion being that it was too long for audiences to sit through, rather than being over-taxing for the soloist - making it more of a 'programming' issue, rather than a 'performability' question.]

Yet is this really the case?  Both of the Brahms PCs - surely the most popular prototype for a 'high romantic' piano concerto - run to 53-55 minutes, depending on who is on the piano stool. The margin of difference between this and the Busoni concerto is almost insignificant, surely?

As for the "demands" of the Busoni concerto, most of negative criticism of the work in its early years was exactly - that the orchestra has the lion's share of the motivic material, and the pianist is slogging away in the background for much of the time?  This is not to talk the piece down at all - it's a 'concerto' in a more baroque sense, like a 'concerto grosso', than the flashy showmanship of the composer-pianist-soloist genre of piano concerto (of which Rach 2 is a good example, from the same period as Busoni's)
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ahinton
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« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2016, 01:00:01 pm »

As I recall very few pianists could tackle its demands until Ogden revived it in that historic recording from 1967.

It is frequently asserted that the "extreme" length of this concerto contributed to its lack of popularity in the decades following its premiere. [The suggestion being that it was too long for audiences to sit through, rather than being over-taxing for the soloist - making it more of a 'programming' issue, rather than a 'performability' question.]
Whilst I guess that this is broadly the case, there were at least two dozen performances during the composer's lifetime, mostly involving him either as pianist or conductor - that's an average of a little over one a year (I've not read reviews, although I recall that they were rather mixed for the première); over the following three decades, performances were rather less frequent, the majority being given by Busoni's pupil Egon Petri and most taking place in Germany, UK and US (Petri played it four times in UK in 1934 alone) and the half dozen performances that took place in 1966 were atypical of its subsequent fate. I think that it gets rather more outings these days, helped along by pianists such as Peter Donohoe, Marc-André Hamelin and Carlo Grante never losing any opportunity to perform it.

I agree that, for all that the piano part is taxing, had it been impractically so, far fewer pianists would have recorded it since John Ogdon did almost half a century ago (and there's been quite a clutch of recordings).

No one complains about the length of time audience members are expected to sit through Mahler's symphonies, of which eight out of ten occupy more than one hour - or indeed Bruckner's, of which nos. 2 - 5 and 7 - 9 do likewise.

Yet is this really the case?  Both of the Brahms PCs - surely the most popular prototype for a 'high romantic' piano concerto - run to 53-55 minutes, depending on who is on the piano stool. The margin of difference between this and the Busoni concerto is almost insignificant, surely?
Absolutely right! Whether the fact that the Busoni exceeds one hour raises any kind of psychological barrier in the minds of some might be open to question, but the facts that its content (a) is readily absorbable by anyone familiar with the concertos of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt and Tchaikovsky and (b) embraces popularity with abandon when its suits Busoni to do so make one wonder why it's not more frequently performed. The other factor is, of course, the use of the male chorus whose members sit patiently for around an hour before their big moment comes.

As for the "demands" of the Busoni concerto, most of negative criticism of the work in its early years was exactly - that the orchestra has the lion's share of the motivic material, and the pianist is slogging away in the background for much of the time?  This is not to talk the piece down at all - it's a 'concerto' in a more baroque sense, like a 'concerto grosso', than the flashy showmanship of the composer-pianist-soloist genre of piano concerto (of which Rach 2 is a good example, from the same period as Busoni's)
Again, spot on! - although the Concerto's not short of moments of gran bravura. Shura Cherkassky was once asked why he hadn't / whether he might add it to his repertoire and said that he'd studied it and worked on it but decided against it because he didn't exactly relish spending the first hour accompanying the orchestra and then the final minutes accompanying the choir as well! Pity, that; I'd have loved to hear his take on it (as I'm sure would many others). Another pianist whom I've always regretted never having performed it was the one who introduced John Ogdon to it when first they met at what's now RNCM in Manchester; he was working on it in a practice room when the then 9 year old John, who'd been listening outside, entered and asked what the music was and, when told, declared that he would like to play it one day (well, I suppose that there must be legions of 9 year olds who'd relish the opportunity to learn Busoni's Concerto having just listened to someone practising bits of it!). The pianist of whom I speak is (or rather sadly was) Ronald Stevenson.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2016, 03:29:26 pm »

No one complains about the length of time audience members are expected to sit through Mahler's symphonies, of which eight out of ten occupy more than one hour - or indeed Bruckner's, of which nos. 2 - 5 and 7 - 9 do likewise.

I can relate to that - since we went up to SPb last week to see & hear the Mariinsky do FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, uncut.  They announced 4.5 hours for it, including intervals, which seemed unrealistically tight...  so we booked the 01:58 am overnight sleeper train back home to Moscow, as the midnight express looked dicey.  In reality the curtain came down at 23:50,  after an 18:30 start.  With my head stuck in the technicalities of turning the set-changes round in time, this still seemed rather lax...  but wiser counsel came from my colleague on the trip.  "She's knackered, after the Act III finale music - it's tougher than the end of Valkyrie, and now she has to sing non-stop through Act IV.  She has to get a break."   Sadly I feel Strauss is the guilty party here - unrealistic writing on his part, considering he was an opera conductor himself.
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« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2016, 04:00:56 pm »

I still remember the glory of my first listen in the 1970's to my newly purchased LP of the Busoni with John Ogden and I have listened to it so many times since that I can practically hum the whole thing, well not really, I'm a bad hummer, especially for a whole hour. But I never felt it was too long!! I can't remember hearing any other pianist who I felt did it injustice, and I listen to what I can get my hands on, but have a special place in my heart for the Ogden.
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ahinton
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2016, 05:40:47 pm »

I still remember the glory of my first listen in the 1970's to my newly purchased LP of the Busoni with John Ogden and I have listened to it so many times since that I can practically hum the whole thing, well not really, I'm a bad hummer, especially for a whole hour. But I never felt it was too long!! I can't remember hearing any other pianist who I felt did it injustice, and I listen to what I can get my hands on, but have a special place in my heart for the Ogden.
'Tis a pity that John of all people didn't receive finer orchestral support than he did on that otherwise historic recording. I don't know what the playing was like in his public performances because sadly I didn't attend any of them; he performed the work in Liverpool (1958 & 1966), London  (1963 and 1966 [twice]), St. Louis and Minneapolis (1969), Empoli - Busoni's birthplace (1974) and Milan (1979), as well as another London performance in 1967 with the same forces with whom he recorded it. I think that few if any other pianist could have claimed to have had the work in his head for most of his life.

Oh - and Ogdon, s'il vous plaît!...
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2016, 06:48:18 pm »

John Ogdon certainly took on piano concertos which we do not hear today. I have cds of him playing the concertos by two of my favourite composers-Robert Simpson and Peter Mennin. The Simpson was recorded back in 1967. There has not been a recording since.
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« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2016, 07:08:15 pm »

Let us not forget that what we know as the Busoni Piano Concerto is not his only one. However, it would be unfair to call it Piano Concerto No. 2, since the first, in D minor for piano and strings, was not published in Busoni's lifetime, nor given an opus number. He wrote it when he was ... twelve. Stylistically it resembles Schubert and Mozart, but is a pretty competent work for a 12-year old.
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