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December 2013
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A Wonder Child


When Chicago-born Jewish composer Mel Tormé referred to children in his runaway hit “The Christmas Song,” he pretty well nailed it:

“So I’m offering this simple phrase. To kids from one to ninety-two…”

The holidays not only celebrate children, but bring out the inner child (for those who’ve crossed over to the other side (adulthood)). For this reason, WFMT celebrates children and childhood throughout December.

This week’s New Release of the Week comes to us from Marc-Andre Hamelin, a monster of the keyboard. The recording focuses on works by one who had been a child prodigy, Ferruccio Busoni. Busoni was the son of musicians: a pianist and a clarinetist. He performed publicly at age seven and performed his own compositions before he was ten, capturing the attention of Anton Rubinstein, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms.

These days, radio people most often associate Busoni with his oft-performed transcriptions; in fact he’s a terribly undervalued composer. His works are positively arresting, as was shown in a performance of his Berceuse élégiaque by the CSO under Riccardo Muti. Muti called it, “a masterpiece.” Yes, Busoni went on to teach people who became more famous: Dimitri Tiomkin, Kurt Weill, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Edgard Varèse—perhaps that’s part of the problem.

The New Releases host, Lisa Flynn, had this to say:

Most of us know the name Ferruccio Busoni in connection with his famous transcriptions of Bach works. But this new recording shows that his Bach arrangements make up a small portion of Busoni’s output. He was an incredibly prolific composer whose style is hard to peg down. It’s all over the map – from works modeled after Baroque forms to pieces inspired by Native American melodies and virtuosic showpieces that push the limits of the piano. Marc-André Hamelin is known for his ability to take on the toughest challenges, and he introduces us to some late rarities from Busoni, including several world-premiere recordings.

Busoni’s virtuosic abilities are not for the faint of heart. Only the most accomplished technicians of the piano can manage some of this music, but it’s well worth the journey for a player like Hamelin. Busoni’s is a strangely alluring, and haunting voice.

Stay tuned to WFMT throughout the week, and during the midday program with Lisa Flynn to hear selections from this new CD.



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