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Great Violinists: Adolf BUSCH (1891 - 1952)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat major, Op. 12, No.3
Allegro con spirito – Adagio con molt’espressione – Rondo: Allegro molto

Violin Sonata No.5 in F major, Op. 24 (Spring)
Allegro – Adagio molto espressivo – Scherzo & Trio – Rondo: Allegro non troppo

Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op. 47 (Kreutzer)
Adagio sostenuto – Andante con variazioni - Presto

Adolf Busch (violin)
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Recorded 5th May, 1931, London (tracks 1-3), 17th May, 1933, London (tracks 4-7), 12th December, 1941, New York (tracks 8-10)
NAXOS 8.110954 [65.04]


This new Naxos release is another of the 'Great Violinists' archive recordings, but the series title is in this case something of a misnomer, as it unjustly ignores the fine pianist Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991). Serkin, himself a fine soloist and chamber musician, is just as important as his colleague in this violin and piano partnership, which is regarded as one of the great string duos of the 20th century. The association between Serkin and Busch originated from Busch’s large circles of chamber music players (including the Busch Quartet), and it was through these meetings that a permanent working arrangement with Serkin eventually arose. At first, the partnership seemed unlikely - Busch, at 29, was already widely regarded in musical society, and was a disciple of Joachim’s musical pedagogy. Serkin on the other hand, was a tender 17 year old, highly influenced by the avant-garde second Viennese School. Despite these differences, a strong artistic bond was soon formed, and Serkin became as close as a son to Busch and his wife - he even married Adolf's daughter, Irene Busch! One of the key factors in the duo’s success was Busch's underlying belief that sonatas for violin and piano were essentially duos, and that the pianist should never suffer any musical discrimination.

The consequence of this dualistic approach is a performance of enormous musical integrity. Each of the two men is entirely aware of the other’s nuances and phrasing, and their intimate understanding of one another’s ideas leads to some sublime moments of delicacy in the Adagio movements of the sonatas, and some delicious interplay elsewhere – the Spring Sonata’s Scherzo and Trio and the Rondo of Sonata No.3 for instance, are vigorous and spirited interpretations. The playful interaction of the violin and piano sounds as natural as human conversation, yet a balanced, thoughtful approach is always in evidence – the performance is always tasteful and, even behind the element of risk which is part of every live performance, there is a feeling of musical security that can only arise from a real and absolute understanding of the music.

The reason for the recording’s reissue is of course the historical perspective on Busch’s violin-playing, and his overall sound is very interesting to hear. The tone is intense and powerful – even in moments of tenderness he maintains an unusually clear body to the sound – and there is a slight edge to his playing which, far from being off-putting, actually adds clarity. Another consequence of this is that many of Busch’s individual notes begin with the percussiveness of a piano, adding to the integration of the two artists even further. Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer from 78 to CD – described by him as a ‘moderate intervention’ rather than a complete re-processing – is exemplary; in allowing the original idiosyncrasies of the analogue recording to come through, he maintains the authenticity of the original discs.

The CD comes complete with Tully Potter's excellent sleeve notes, and is yet another example of Naxos' uncompromising balance between quality and commercial pre-eminence. An outstanding release.


Simon Hewitt Jones


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