I didn't have much hope for this disc because I had heard one of Wolf Harden's early efforts in this series and did not like it at all. Busoni: Piano Music, Vol. 4 I was surprised and pleased to like this one much better. The disc contains two early works by Busoni -- his transcription of Liszt's organ work 'Fantasy and Fugue on "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam"' and his F Minor Sonata. Liszt designated that his organ piece could also be played on the pedal piano, an instrument that exists now only in museums -- Alkan also wrote works for the instrument -- but he never made a transcription for the regular piano. Busoni did so in 1897 and it has become a reasonably well known work. Harden gets deep into the keys for the monumental chordal passages with which the work opens and maintains his mastery and control through to the end, a complicated and exhilarating fugue. The middle movement, an Adagio with some wispy, dreamlike moments, is outstanding.
The Sonata in F Minor comes from 1883, when Busoni was only 17 and a student in Vienna. The score was not available until recent years and is not well-known. It is a remarkably tightly constructed three movement work whose influences are, not surprisingly, Schumann and Brahms, as well as Anton Rubinstein. The first movement is in sonata-allegro form and has a striking first theme that is developed with real skill albeit with some stolidity. The Andante is altogether more serene and lyrical. The finale opens with a section marked 'In the guise of an improvisation' and leads to an exciting and masterful fugato which Harden plays lickety-split; at times one feels he is playing faster than his fingers will manage, but he never quite loses control. An exhilarating performance of an exhilarating movement.
The final two tracks on this CD are stylistically different as they come from 1923, long after Busoni had completely changed (modernized) his compositional fingerprints. The 'Prélude et étude en arpéges' are much more astringent than what had come before on this disc. The harmonies employed scintillate quietly in the sparse, evocative writing that had become characteristic of Busoni's late style. Harden plays, as required, with coolness and emotional restraint.