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BACH-BUSONI CHACONNE
Up there with the Liszt B minor Sonata and the
Franck Prélude Chorale et Fugue



There are few compositions that I consider transcendental in scope, by which I mean works that grow from a single, seminal theme or concept and expound on this concept, quasi-hypnotically, uninterrupted until all that can ever be said has been said. It is a journey at the end of which I know I will never be the same again. The whole of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony is one such work, the Adagio from Bruckner's eighth symphony another.

In the realm of music written for a solo performer there are several such masterpieces, the Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt, the Prélude Chorale et Fugue by César Franck, and the Chaconne from the second unaccompanied violin Partita by Bach prominent among them.

There are two towering transcriptions of The Bach Chaconne for the piano, the first dating from 1877 for left hand alone by Brahms , and the second from 1893 for piano two hands by Ferruccio Busoni.


In the case of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, I had decided to take a unique approach. Interspersed among the performances of the piano transcription were several performances of the original version for violin as well as versions for harpsichord and for guitar. I though it might be beneficial in evaluating an interpretation of a transcription to determine the performer's understanding of the original version as well as the transcription and the music itself. It was my hope that in being reminded regularly of the sound of the original version and transcriptions for other instruments, the ear will constantly be refreshed, the music will begin to exist in its pure abstract form, and understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the interpretations of the transcription will increase.

I must confess, however, that part of my original motivation was the dearth of available performances of this great work. In the four and a half years since first creating this page, many more performances of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne have become available to me. There is now a more than sufficient number of these to permit an insightful comparison of interpretations which is the ultimate intent of these pages. I have therefore removed the recordings that are not definitionally germane to the subject of this page.

First, let us examine a performance by the master himself whose playing of the Chaconne incorporates numerous aspects of the technical capabilities of the violin.



FERRUCCIO BUSONI (1866-1924)
Italian pianist 

Welte Mignon piano roll




There are performances of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne by Brailowsky, himself a pupil of Busoni, Witold Malcuzynski, himself a grand student of Busoni, the great Italian pianists Maria Tipo and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Agnelle Bundervoet which are spectacular. We will follow these performances, unless we are so transported by them as not to want to continue, with others formidable performances. The order in which they are presented has no significance as to my views on the quality of the individual performances, all of which I believe to have much to offer. [Alas, the Brailowsky and Tipo performances mentioned above are no longer available on YouTube. However, I have found three more Michelangeli recordings and one by Lazar Berman with which to replace them.]

Two new performances of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne offer an interesting comparison, those by Boris Giltburg and Edna Stern, both Israeli pianists.  Giltburg's is superlatively played. His use of the pedal is exemplary and in no way obscures the contrapuntal aspect of this music. Stern, on the other hand, seems to forget that this is essentially Bach. Her heavy-footed use of the pedal makes many critical passages sound muddy. Focus on the octave passages in the left hand starting at 03:10 in the Giltburg recording and at 02:20 in the Stern. Not only are Giltburg's octaves cleanly and delicately played, but the perfect arch of crescendo and diminuendo over the entire passage is a stunning example of interpretive control.

Of all of the following performances, the one I find most appealing, possibly because it offers us the essence of the contrapuntal Bach in equal measure and perfect harmony with the passionately romantic Busoni, is the performance by the great Italian pianist, Maria Tipo. [This one is now gone from YouTube, a monumental loss.]



ARTUR RUBINSTEIN
Polish-American pianist (1887-1982)

recorded in 1970




GRIGORY GINZBURG
Russian pianist (1904-1961)

recorded in 1957




SHURA CHERKASSKY
Ukraine-born American pianist (1909-1995)

recorded in 1991




WLADYSLAW SZPILMAN
Polish pianist (1911-2000)




YAKOV FLIER
Russian pianist (1912-1977)

recorded in 1947




ROSALYN TURECK
American pianist (1914-2003)




WITOLD MALCUZYNSKI
Polish pianist (1914-1977)

recorded in 1970




JORGE BOLET
Cuban pianist (1914-1990)

recorded live in 1974 


Part I




Part II




ARTURO BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI
Italian pianist (1920-1995)


recorded in 1948




recorded in 1949




recorded live in Warsaw in 1955





recorded live in Bregnez in 1988




AGNELLE BUNDERVOËT
French pianist (b 1922)

recorded in 1954


Part I




Part II




ALICIA de LARROCHA
Spanish Catalan pianist  (1923-2009)


recorded in 1974




recorded in 1986




TATIANA NIKOLAEVA
Russian Soviet pianist (1924-1993)




LAZAR BERMAN
Russian Soviet pianist (1930-2005)




JOHN OGDON
English pianist (1937-1989)

recorded in the 1980s




MIKHAIL PLETNEV
Russian pianist (b 1957)

recorded live in Carnegie Hall in 2000




MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN
Canadian pianist (b 1961)




HÉLÈNE GRIMAUD
French pianist (b 1969)

recorded live in 2001




EVGENY KISSIN
Russian pianist (b 1971)

recorded in 1996




and another, slower version




JAMES RHODES
British pianist (b 1975)




EDNA STERN
Belgian-Israeli pianist (b 1977)




BORIS GILTBURG
Russian-born Israeli pianist (b 1981)

recorded in 2011 at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv




POLINA LESCHENKO
Russian pianist (b 1981)




GIUSEPPE ANDALORO
Italian pianist (b 1982)




ELENA TARASOVA
Russian pianist (b 1984)










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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