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Adolf Busch
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D Op 61 (1806)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Solo Sonata No.3 in C BWV 1005
Adolf Busch (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Busch
Recorded February 1942 (Concerto) and May 1942 (Solo Sonata)
BIDDULPH 80211-2 [62.06]



These two important performances date from the years of Busch’s American exile. The Beethoven was never issued at the time, the violinist, perhaps uniquely for one of his breed, objecting that the recording had placed him too far forward, a result of faulty spatial separation (Busch was asked to stand raised on a box for the session).

There are tremendous qualities in the performance to which I respond with genuine admiration. That said it would be foolish to pretend that however moving it is there are not also a number of deficiencies. Busch’s broken octaves sound effortful to my ears and tentative; his intonation is also not always secure. The sense of strain that he imparts to the line - and in this he is aided by his brother Fritz – is arguably an architectural-expressive component of his conception, but some of the passagework is less than ideally determined. His musical shaping in the first movement from 10.00 onwards is marvellously expressive however, even though I find his subsequent phrasing (from about 12.00) less convincing.

It is in the Larghetto that he really illumines the performance; few can match him for rapt intensity and concentratedness, inner light. No one was less likely to skim over the surface of the music here than Busch. The finale is not the tidiest of performances though it’s rugged and full of incidental interest (and a little bit of orchestral congestion). But Busch seems to gain here in elegance and eloquence as the movement develops and there’s assuredly much to admire. Busch plays his own – not entirely successful – cadenzas. The Beethoven has appeared before. It was released on a Brüder-Busch-Gesellschaft LP but its first CD release, I believe, was via Instituto Discografico Italiano, a pirate release of the LP, where it was coupled with the violinist’s 1936 broadcast of the Busoni Concerto with the Concertgebouw and Bruno Walter – a must-have. The Biddulph, which comes from the original source material, is rather better defined than the Italian release and there’s less "spread" to the sound. There’s also a slight pitch discrepancy between the releases in the first movement – the IDI release is very slightly adrift. I have to say that theirs is not at all a bad transfer but the Biddulph is sonically better.

Coupled with the Beethoven is the Bach in a suitably powerful and human performance. He’s not always technically precise but the sense of arch and architecture is total. The Fuga is splendid and the Largo full of expressive depth whilst the final movement’s contours and terraced diminuendos bespeak Busch’s authority in Bach.

Busch admirers need the Busoni but unfortunately they will probably need to invest in this disc, should they not already have the coupled Bach. The rewards are palpable.

Jonathan Woolf

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