"I heard the 'Skyscraper Concerto'"
Some performances just leave you speechless. They serve as reminders that music's language reaches beyond the realm of words, that it communicates where words fail.
Carlo Grante's performance of Ferruccio Busoni's massive, mammoth, monumental Piano Concerto (which the composer himself called a "skyscraper concerto") on Friday (1/15) and Saturday (1/16) evening in the Vienna Konzerthaus was one such performance. For most listeners it was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience: it hasn't been performed in Vienna in over four decades.
Carlo Grante at the Vienna Konzerthaus
Now you see me, now you don't!
With a length rivaling Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and an orchestration exceeding it, it's no wonder that the Busoni Concerto is so seldom performed. Add to that a male choir for its fifth (!) and final movement, not to mention a piano part that is arguably the most difficult in the repertory, and this weekend's performance with the Vienna Symphony and Wiener Singakademie conducted by Fabio Luisi became more than a rare treat, it was a momentous occasion.
The Vienna Symphony, Carlo Grante, Fabio Luisi and the Wiener Singakademie male choir
Busoni connoisseur Carlo Grante
Now you see me, now you don't!
Busoni's own musical language is among the more disparate of composers, eclectic even. Written in 1904 as the ne plus ultra of piano concertos, it conjures up reminiscences of a musical past and inspires visions of the future. Bizet, Wagner, Khatchaturian, Brahms and Schumann, Liszt and Berlioz all pay the work a visit, disappearing the moment they're recognized in an apparent game of musical hide-and-seek.
Born in 1866, Busoni lived to experience the dawn of artistic modernism. Some commentators suggest that he was born too early, as he never fully implemented the new language which he helped to formulate in 1907 in his Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music. Works such as the mystical, atonal Sonatina Seconda (1912) almost seem like brief aberrations more than succinct statements of the new language.
By contrast, the Piano Concerto was meant, quite explicitly, to be the last word in Romantic piano concertos. Its pastiche of styles and moods can make it hard to follow on first hearing, although its 70-odd minutes go by seemingly in the blink of an eye.
A full palette of pianistic watercolors
At least that's how it seemed with Carlo Grante at the helm of the mighty Bösendorfer Imperial for which the concerto was written -- and which Busoni himself even designed. A connoisseur's pianist, Grante has firmly established himself as the "go-to guy" for insuperable pianistic tasks.
True to form, Grante played the Busoni Concerto as if it were a toy, delighting in its playfulness. His interpretation was noteworthy for its clarity, invincible confidence and the full palette of pianistic watercolors he drew from the Imperial.
Maestro Fabio Luisi, Carlo Grante and the Vienna Symphony
Brilliantly conducted by Fabio Luisi
The concerto was preceded by an energetic Beethoven Fifth Symphony, in which Maestro Luisi's predilection for brisk, strict tempos paid off in bringing Beethoven's angular, radical language to life again for an audience that heard the work anew.
We invited pianist Albert Frantz, who was among the more than 2000 listeners at the sold-out Konzerthaus, to share his impressions of the concert with our visitors in the present article.
(Photo credits: Carlo Grante, Fabio Luisi, Bösendorfer)