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The Busch String Quartet
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 7 in F Op.59 No.1 Razumovsky
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky
Busch String Quartet
Recorded in New York, 1941 and 1942
BIDDULPH 80208-2 [75.55]


Having arrived in America by diverse routes the Busch Quartet reassembled in June 1940. They’d recorded heavily for HMV in Europe but in New York RCA Victor wasn’t keen to do the same so the quartet signed a contract with Columbia, then very much a junior partner to RCA when it came to classical artists (the pendulum was to turn later). Busch suffered a heart attack before Columbia began a gap-filling recording contract to lay down all those Beethoven works the Busch Quartet hadn’t yet committed to disc but he was sufficiently recovered for recording to begin in May 1941. The discs were cut on 16" lacquers but, as Tully Potter’s notes explain, in the interim the Coolidge Quartet had recorded their own version for Victor and so the duplication did for the Busch’s version, which was not issued. This is its first CD appearance, which we owe to Potter’s intervention. Its Razumovsky companion here, No.1 in F, was recorded during May 1942 and suffered no such reverses, appearing on 78, LP and CD. Its qualities are widely known and appreciated.

The E minor lacquers have survived in fine condition and this transfer is successful in thus giving them wider distribution than they’ve so far received. The quartet’s rhythm, not least in the Allegro first movement, is one of the most outstanding qualities of the group. They gave far more of a sense of verticality to the music than most of their contemporaries and kept everything alive in faster movements. The Allegretto is taken at a good tempo – slower than the Budapest took it – but quite brisk and at the same kind of tempo that a later group such as the Fine Arts habitually took it. The finale is full of flight and energy. But it’s the slow movement that will excite most interest. Potter, Busch’s staunchest admirer, calls it ‘unequivocally the finest-ever recording of the movement ever made’. Listeners will make up their own minds (I simply can’t agree) but its slowness evinces a spiritual depth and concentrated vision that seems to me to be undercut by an over-prayerful and disruptive caesura before the violin’s ethereal solo statements. I should also note that at 14.32 it is very slow, slower even than the 1926 Lenér Quartet. Vulgarian that I am I am more comprehensively moved by the late Budapest recording of 1960 and by several other performances come to that.

The companion quartet has a relaxed opening movement and a well judged slow movement by which I’m more convinced than Op.59 No.2. There are certainly moments of untidiness along the way but few, The performance is very recommendable, though not, it seems to me, quite the equal of the earlier European Beethoven recordings.

The transfers are attractively done; the slight moments of shrillness in the E minor are presumably inherent in the original lacquers. This latest Biddulph expands the Busch CD discography still further and enticingly.

Jonathan Woolf

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