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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op 61 (1806) [45:09]¹
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto Op.53 (1879) [30:51]²
Extract from an interview with Guila Bustabo and Dr. Tieszen, July 2001 [1:55]
Guila Bustabo (violin)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Willem Mengelberg: rec. live, 6 May 1943¹
NWDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt: rec. live, 21 March 1955²
TAHRA TAH640 [78:29]
Experience Classicsonline


The recordings of the controversial figure of Guila Bustabo still make for exciting listening. She was Wisconsin-born in 1917 – making her a contemporary of Ruggiero Ricci. Both studied with the leading American pedagogue of the day Louis Persinger and both soon gravitated to Europe. Bustabo enjoyed the greater early celebrity, making her London debut in 1934 and recording talent scouts were clearly out in force as she went into the studios the following year to record with Gerald Moore – a brilliant but inconsistent series of discs it must be noted. She studied further with Enescu and Hubay, played for Sibelius, then returned to America in 1938. And then, amazingly, she and her domineering mother returned to Europe arriving in Paris in May 1940, just before the Occupation. Her career never recovered from the stigma of the performances she gave in Nazi Germany and post-War she was shunned by American orchestras. In the 1970s she did finally return to join the Alabama Symphony and the last years of her life were spent in seclusion or as a recluse, depending on how one looks at it.

Of the two concertos here I’ve heard the Beethoven before but not the Dvořák. The Beethoven is the 1943 broadcast with another equivocal figure, Mengelberg and I last heard it on Michael G. Thomas’s label devoted to a slew of the conductor’s recordings (Mengelberg Edition ADCD117, coupled with the Bustabo/Mengelberg Bruch G minor – a magnificent live performance). She was free to indulge her very personalised sense of rubato with Mengelberg who offered her a kind of mirror image of her own combustible rhythmic sense. Mengelberg’s opening paragraphs are therefore defiantly etched, accelerandos driving the musical argument forward. This volatility is paralleled in Bustabo’s playing – both in terms of tempo and mood – with a very slow second subject lent into with Bustabo’s trademark quivery vibrato – something that had earlier disfigured some of her first commercial Columbia 78s. These moments are affecting or sickly according to taste but the extremes of dynamics and elasticity of line attest to a singularly highly charged meeting of musical minds. The slow movement is extremely slow, stretched once more and bordering on the sentimentalised. Whereas the finale is big boned, albeit the cadenza is not especially convincing. Of the two transfers that I’ve sampled Tahra’s is the one to have; the earlier transfer was very rough and ready, afflicted with swish and lacking in detail. Tahra’s work is excellent.

The companion work shows Bustabo in repertoire that suited her better. The 1955 sound is clearly much better than the Beethoven and unproblematic sonically. The NWDR Symphony Orchestra is directed by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – a touch foursquare in places. Bustabo plays here with great personality, ensuring that her legato, singing line in the first movement isn’t disturbed by too much slowing down at cadential points. Her rhythm sounds considerably tighter than before, far more stabilised, and her tone lacks the rather hysterical edge that could creep in back in pre-War days. Her fast vibrato ensures vibrancy and an alert imagination at play. Altogether this is a fine performance with a festive finale, and some nice inflected hues in the folkloric episodes.

There is a bonus of a two-minute snippet from an interview conducted with Bustabo in 2001, the year before she died.

This is a contrasting, valuable, excellently presented brace of performances, ones that reveal the excellences and limitations of Bustabo’s art.

Jonathan Woolf

 


 


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