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
, and the second from 1893 for piano two hands by Ferruccio Busoni.
In the case of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, I have decided to take a unique approach. Interspersed among the performances of the piano transcription you will find the original version for violin as well as one for harpsichord and two for guitar. I believe it is important 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 is my hope that by 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.
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 Italian Pianist (1866-1924)
Next are performances by Brailowsky, himself a pupil of Busoni, and Planté, and Witold Malcuzynski and Agnelle Bundrvoet, these last both new additions to this page, which are spectacular. We will follow these performances, unless we are so transported by them as not to want to continue, with the others for piano, violin (The performances by violinists Gidon Kremer whose recording below is, alas, incomplete, and of course Heifetz are delicious.), and guitar. 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. But the Rubinstein and Heifetz interpretations are indeed extraordinary, as always, and very similar in their technical perfection dedicated to the faithful rendition of the music.
ALEXANDER BRAILOWSKY Russian-French Pianist (1896-1976)
WITOLD MALCUZYNSKI Polish Pianist (1914-1977) Recorded in 1970
ALICIA de LARROCHA Spanish Catalan Pianist (1923-2009)
In the next group, the performances are, sadly, not complete ones, but they are well worth hearing. There are two excerpts for piano and one for violin. If I can find the missing parts, I will add them.
The performance by Yakov Flier is exciting, dramatic, and beautifully played. It is perhaps more romantic than is called for by the original Bach Chaconne, but perfectly in keeping with the Busoni. Flier was one of the most prominent of the Russian concert pianists of the mid-century whose students included Rodion Shchedrin, Mikhail Pletnev and Bella Davidovich.
Gidon Kremer is one of the giants of his, and my, generation.
And Kissin is Kissin, monumental technique, often very moving, sometimes missing the forest for the trees. But this time his playing is simply stunning.
YAKOV FLIER Russian Pianist (1912-1977) Recorded in 1947