DAN The Silk Road BUSONI Turnadot Suite
The booklet essay outlines a programme to each work which might not be readily appreciable from the performances. The meeting of Russian and Mongolian cultures in Borodin’s portrait is transparent but dimensionally flat where conductors as diverse as Ansermet and Gergiev make an empty heat-haze from the opening, unending violin line, and the pages spring to life.
Likewise, Douglas Bostock and the (Swiss) Argovia Philharmonic make an exciting march from the opening of Busoni’s quasi-symphonic reworking of scenes and interludes from his Turandot opera (from 1917, almost a decade before Puccini’s abortive version), but in Michael Gielen’s recording of the suite (Vox – nla), I hear the approach to the scaffold, the terror of the prisoners and the implacability of the Empress’s guards. It’s partly a matter of tempo, more generally of imaginative response. Gielen’s Cincinatti band and the La Scala orchestra under Muti could hardly present a starker tonal contrast – the first relishing the punch and glitter of Busoni’s scoring, the Italians indulging its lushness – but both bring more swaggering, virtuoso colour to the suite’s character-portraits of Turandot, Altoum and Truffaldino.
Whether or not the performance of Ikuma Dan’s four-movement symphonic suite from 1955 is similarly accurate but literal may be beside the point. The Silk Road has no overt programme but its twinkly pentatonicism would not sound out of place in a (Western) film of an Eastern setting or story. The march has something of Yul Brynner’s cold but compassionate stare and the Pastorale would cover the plight of the cowering villagers. For tunes, though, there’s nothing here to touch the Sevens, be they Magnificent or Samurai.