The music of Ferruccio Busoni was comparatively neglected for many decades, perhaps because he didn't fit any of the "-isms" that were contending to be the main line of musical development. There was too much Liszt in his music for him to be part of the neo-Classical crowd. Now that it's clear that that effort was itself a big part of classical music's problems, Busoni is showing up on more programs and recordings. He wrote tonal music, which for some disqualified him right off the bat. And there was a dry, rigorous quality even to his slightest compositions that placed him far from late Romanticism. Annotator Richard Whitehouse puts it nicely here when he writes that Busoni was "neither inherently conservative nor demonstratively radical," and that his innovations "were bound up with a re-creative approach to the musical past that has only gained wider currency over recent decades." In a way, John Adams is one of his heirs.
This disc, part of a series of Naxos releases covering all of Busoni's piano music, introduces some of Busoni's diverse impulses, all of them tied together by his devotion to contrapuntal art and artifice. There is a relatively straight Bach transcription; a set of Three Pieces, Op. 4-6, that use concise scherzo, prelude, and fugue forms; five virtuoso works Busoni called Ballet Scenes; some light waltz music intended as a tribute to Strauss but actually closer to Ravel's La valse (though not so grim); and finally an Indianische Tagebuch (Indian Diary) that is entirely different in effect from so-called Indianist compositions in the U.S. Hear the second part, "Song of Victory" (track 14), which uses an ostinato as the basis for the subtle motivic evolution present in many of Busoni's pieces. The Fourth Ballet Scene in the Form of a Concert Waltz, Op. 33a, is a good introduction to Busoni in general, with neither its waltz opening nor its thunderous conclusion ever really letting the listener sit back and relax -- there's always too much going on at the local level. German pianist Wolf Harden has the equipment to handle the pianistically thorny passages, with a powerful, bass-heavy sound, and he had a fine feel for the unique mixture of intellect and showmanship in Busoni that is sounding better and better every year. A good choice as part of the Naxos set or for anyone curious about this composer.