Jacob Greenberg

Schumann: Humoreske; Busoni: Fantasia Contrappuntistica

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The program of this release by American pianist Jacob Greenberg is a study in contrasts. Schumann's Humoreske, Op. 20, composed in 1839, is a sort of abstract compression of the mercurial personalities of Schumann's two alter egos; it is an abstract work that shifts rapidly in mood over its seven movements played without pause. Here the seven movements are compressed to five tracks, but the division into movements seems almost incidental anyhow. Busoni's Fantasia contrappuntistica (1912), by contrast, might fairly be described as ponderous without taking anything away from it. It's a giant, typically virtuosic work, loosely based on Bach's Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080, that applies the processes of the chorale prelude and chorale variation to the theme of Bach's work. These two works don't seem exactly to go together, but Greenberg makes the case with a rather precise, dispassionate Humoreske and a lyrical, warm Fantasia contrappuntistica. The latter is especially important, for the songful quality in Busoni's music is too often missed by performers intent on showing off their chops. But the intelligence shown in tying the two pieces together is also noteworthy, for the two composers in a way came at the beginning and end of the same intelligent virtuoso tradition. An intriguing recital, and a novel move for the small New Focus Recordings label, which has largely focused on contemporary music.

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