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The Busch String Quartet
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

String Quartet in E flat K428 (1783)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Quintet in E flat Op. 44 (1842)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

String Quartet in E flat Op. 51 (1878-79)
The Busch String Quartet
Recorded 1941-42
BIDDULPH LAB 103 [80.09]


Note the key of all three works. This is the Busch Quartet in E flat, as it were, recorded in America in 1941 and 1942. They had escaped from Europe by various means and reassembled in 1940. Not only does this programme make for consonance in matters of key but also it produces balanced listening and gives one the opportunity to savour the contribution of Busch’s son-in-law, Rudolf Serkin, in the outstanding performance of the Schumann Quintet.

Given the quartet’s significant profile in classical repertoire one would expect the Mozart to be convincing and generally it is. The slow movement is taken at a good flowing tempo and the finale is buoyant. But the opening movement tends toward sticky portamenti at the start and a rather perfumed degree of phrasing as well. The Dvořák Op. 51 is the only quartet of his that they recorded. Busch has a high reputation in some quarters as a Dvořákian and the surviving broadcast of his Violin Concerto performance showed a fine if not comprehensively convincing exponent. The Quartet receives a really fresh reading with pliant accents and flecked with individual shards of colour from all four players – lively, rhythmically acute playing. The Schumann had its contemporary competition. Schnabel recorded it with the Pro Arte in an occasionally disappointing reading whereas Sanroma and the Primrose Quartet took things to a sleeker extreme. Serkin and the Busch strike the right balance between visceral drive and reflective intimacy. There is power in the Allegro Brilliante and subtle hints of unease in the second movement written in the form of an insistent march – Karl Doktor, the violist, being especially expressive here. The fugal section of the finale is splendidly executed and Serkin plays with incision and architectural nuance.

The Schumann is available on Pearl where it’s coupled with the Op. 34 Brahms Quintet. Biddulph’s transfer is marginally quieter but you should certainly seek out the Brahms performance if you don’t already have it. Otherwise this collection very usefully collates Busch performances that have tended to be a little overlooked, in transfers that are sympathetic and attractive.

Jonathan Woolf



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