Top Ear

Postnikova’s Plodding Busoni

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Jeremy Lee writes

Busoni’s momentous Piano Concerto, possibly the longest, largest and most taxing of the period, is given a performance by husband-and-wife team Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Viktoria Postnikova, which takes the grandiose aspects of the score and stretches it to the extremes, resulting in a recording so long that it had to be spilled over to a second disc. This recording is also the only one with a female pianist to tackle the unwieldy piano part.

How’s it like? The faster even-numbered movements are rather sprightly, but the slow ones are slow to the point of stagnance, for example the 20-minute Pezzo Serioso that streches to almost half an hour, or the almost grotesquely plodding first movement section in which the piano first comes in. Being slow in itself is not a problem if it works (Celibidache’s slowness has its own virtues, for example), and here being slow makes it possibly even more stately, but the question here is of course is if it needs to be taken this excessively, so much grander than the writing taken at a normal pace already is. At any rate, the backbone of the first movement really does crumble under the stretching, and the third movement is reduced to sheer boredom, which does the music no good. The faster movements benefit from Postnikova’s flexible and healthy fingerwork, but then she’s no Hamelin or Ogdon in terms of technique, and the performance as a whole could really benefit from more abandon and power. Rozhdestvensky’s orchestra and choir sound rather disengaged, too.

This two-fer on Warner/Apex is coupled with an unbearable 45-minute-long Fantasia Contrappuntistica solo by Postnikova, and although it’s nicely played and voiced Milne’s much swifter reading on Hyperion at 30 minutes (!) makes infinitely more contrapuntal and musical sense than it does here, and although Busoni’s music definitely isn’t easy listening Milne’s reading does hold interest for more philosophical minds, as opposed to Postnikova’s, which holds none. Sonics are fine though balance is a slight issue in the Concerto. Overall, it’s a lukewarm release, and for Busoni fans bored with Ogdon and Ohlsson’s reference recordings only. Others should pass.


  • Album name:  Busoni:  Piano Concerto, Op. 39;  Fantasia contrappuntistica
  • Performers:  Victoria Postnikova (Piano);  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor);  Orchestre National de France;  Choeur de Radio France
  • Label:  Warner/Apex 0825646439027
  • Sonics:  Stereo DDD
  • Total playing time:  132:53

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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