A child prodigy who had achieved fame as a virtuoso pianist and written nearly 200 works before he was out of his teens, Busoni composed the majority of his chamber music – of which the two violin sonatas comprise early examples – during the former half of his career. Putting to one side a work dating from 1876 – written when the composer was only ten years of age – the First Violin Sonata proper was composed in 1889 and dedicated to Brodsky, who he had met shortly after moving to Leipzig in 1886. Brahmsian in flavour, the work’s three movement form, restlessness and passionate intensity place it firmly within the lineage of Austro-German Romanticism.
Although highly assured, the first sonata is largely overshadowed by Busoni’s second, written a decade later. Considered by the composer to be his real Op.1 in that by this time he had found his true voice, this latter work still retains a wide frame of reference through its various allusions to composers past – its tripartite structure, for instance, echoes that of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.109 which also includes a free fantasia as its first movement, impassioned minor-key Presto in 6/8 and a variation-based finale. With Busoni styling the last movement on a theme taken from Bach’s chorale Wir wohl ist mir, the Second Violin Sonata also owes much to Liszt – particularly in its use of thematic transformation and overall sense of unity.
Deservedly accorded equal status on Newton Classics’ release, these two masterpieces are rousingly performed here by Fontanella and Salinaro. The CD provides a fascinating insight into the young Busoni, effectively tracking the development of his early style into one which, in view of its use of harmony, unusual form and complex part-writing, anticipates his full maturity as a composer.
“Engaging performances, well recorded, of expertly written scores which segue seamlessly between Beethoven, Brahms and others without ever quite managing to exert their own individuality.”
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