Saturday, 1 August 2009

Faust - Ferruccio Busoni Thomas Hampson Goethe

Ferruccio Busoni is a strange figure who doesn't fit into neat boxes. He was a child prodigy, whose virtuostic displays astounded Europe. Privately, he was a polymath, exceptionally well read and thoughtful. Indeed, his real legacy may lie in his ideas, and the way they inspired men whose music in no way resembles his own. No less than Edgard Varėse called him “a figure out of the Renaissance”, who “crystallised my half formed ideas, stimulated my imagination, and determined, I believe, the future development of my music”. Busoni believed that “music was born free and to win freedom is its destiny”, and that it was just in its infancy as an art form.

Busoni deserves a lot more attention than he gets. So read this review of his opera, Doktor Faust, by Jim Zychowicz. This is an excellent performance, as you'd expect with Thomas Hampson in the leading role. Recordings are not thick on the ground. There are two recordings with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Much as I love DFD as a father figure, he's never been the most convincing of opera singers. He doesn't let go enough, he's always DFD singing a role rather than inhabiting the character. Both recordings (Leitner and Nagano) come from the tail end of his career, when he's not quite as unwooden as he might be. So Hampson really is the way to go. He can act, too, wonderfully and is in top form vocally. The staging is very good, and the conductor is Philippe Jordan, son of Armin. Jordan fils is definitely a conductor whose work is worth hearing. He's very clear, precise yet animated and lyrical. He is still barely 40, so will go a long way.

Busoni's Faust is one of the "need to know" operas of the 20th century. This DVD is so good it's also one you want to know. Sadly, this isn't based on the new edition prepared by Anthony Beaumont but instead uses the rushed completion made in 1925 immediately after the composer's death. Busoni did, however, leave enough material to allow a less hurried completion by Anthony Beaumont, based on Busoni's own notes. Beaumont wrote the book, Busoni and his music, still the basic text after 30 years years. He's also the Zemlinsky expert, who cleaned up Zemlinsky scores for new editions. The wonderful, ecstatic score of Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony is his. See a review of the Eschenbach recording : it's outstanding, nothing else comes remotely close.


Mark Berry said...

Just a point of clarification: DFD is on the Nagano recording, but only as the Poet who speaks before the rise of the curtain and after its fall. Dietrich Henschel is Faust.

For what it is worth, I prefer Fischer-Dieskau to Henschel. And Leitner's conducting is more alive, more dramatic than Nagano's. However, Leitner's recording is severely compromised by the cuts (within numbers!), which damage Busoni's 'closed forms'. Ideally, one would have both.

I shall very much look forward to seeing the new DVD though. Hampson was Faust in the splendid Peter Mussbach production (under Nagano) I saw in Salzburg quite a few years ago. He really was very fine then.

However, it is quite a relief to hear that the Beaumont completion (an appendix on the Nagano recording) is not used. It is of course interesting to hear the Helena music, but in the theatre, it comes across as an anti-climax. Philipp Jarnach's version, 'inauthentic' though it might be, packs such a (melo-)dramatic punch that, for me at least, it wins hands down every time. Indeed, it makes me curious to hear some of Jarnach's own music. His pupils include Weill (also of course a Busoni pupil), Skalkottas, and Zimmermann.

Doundou Tchil said...

You are absolutely right, it's Herschel, harsh and metallic. You can see why I stopped listening after one or two plays and never went back !