Sara Davis Buechner

The Bach-Busoni Edition, Vol. 1

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Bach/Busoni is a composer; there are so many transcriptions and editions of Johann Sebastian Bach by Ferruccio Busoni that one needs a worklist separate from Busoni's own in order to make sense of it all. Pianist Sara Davis Buechner has undertaken the daunting task of recording all of Busoni's glosses on Bach in Koch's series The Bach-Busoni Edition, of which this is the first entry. It addresses large-scale works within the canon; Busoni's four-hand arrangements from the Well-Tempered Clavier and his 15-minute Improvisation on a Bach Chorale, plus his editions of the D minor Concerto and Goldberg Variations. Although technically "editions," these works are so heavily marked that they constitute arrangements, just listen to the fourth variation in the Goldbergs. Busoni omits the third, and rearranges the order of the set, even omitting some of the later variations as well. The concerto is done with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey, it's a fascinating example of how Busoni's transformative approach completely reinvents this Baroque concerto into Brahmsian romantic work.

One might wonder, isn't this a disservice to Bach? If you're a Bach purist, it certainly is, perhaps of the worst kind; the whole period performance revolution got underway in part because of Busoni's (and others') heavy-handed intervention in the matter of Bach. However, author William S. Burroughs once made the observation that the collaborations he enjoyed with other writers in making "cut-ups" -- the accidental phrases stemming from combining two half columns of text -- represented a "third mind," or third author. That is who Bach/Busoni is, a third mind author in music -- it is neither wholly like Busoni's music nor certainly Bach's. Beyond the intriguing technique of collaboration in play, these pieces were singularly important in the development of modern style, applying the expressive, agogic, and harmonic techniques of the post-romantic to Bach's nakedly polyphonic Baroque music; had Brahms the time, he probably would have done it himself. Sara Davis Buechner is especially well suited to the task; she is so absorbed in the music that she supplies her own liner notes of scholarly quality and plays the music with both passion and authority. Her technical ability and comprehension of Busoni's sometimes cabbalistic markings is both absolute, and absolutely necessary to make this project even possible.

Morton Feldman once remarked that he played out of some of the Busoni editions of Bach as a student and learned more from reading Busoni's marginal annotations than through playing any of the music. Most of us cannot even come close to playing the actual music, and thanks to The Bach-Busoni Edition, we can actually hear what Busoni was talking about in those annotations; judging from what is on this disc, the edition is off to a rip-roaring start indeed.

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