Fritz Busch
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Carnival Overture Op. 92 (1891) [9:20] ¹
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Alto Rhapsody Op 53 (1869) [12:38] ²
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21 (1830) [30:32] ³
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 (1805) [25:23]
Marian Anderson (contralto)²; Claudio Arrau (piano) ³
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Busch ¹
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Busch
rec. 26 August 1950, live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh International Festival (Dvořák); 10 December 1950, live, Metropolitan Opera House, Human Rights Day Concert (remainder)
GUILD GHCD 2354 [78:20]

None of these performances is making a ‘first release’ appearance but all are welcome nonetheless in Guild’s well upholstered transfers, and with typically useful notes. There is one intact concert here – the Human Rights Day concert given in November 1950 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Then, from slightly earlier in the year, there is the only surviving document of Busch’s work at the Edinburgh International Festival, in the shape of Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. This was something of a favourite of his, and he had in fact recorded it much earlier in 1933. The performance has been reissued several times by Danacord. The tempo is almost identical and whilst he was never quite as fast as Reiner, say, in this spirited work, he always brought to it a fiery intensity. The opening chords tend to splinter in the 1950 off-air recording. But we can still admire the vigorous and rhythmically persuasive way Busch drives through the music, vesting it with carnal life and lissom verdancy. It makes one wonder, afresh, at Busch’s otherwise scanty interest in the composer’s music. The Edinburgh performance once appeared on JS Editions 07159.

Talking of which, Marian Anderson’s performance of the Alto Rhapsody was issued on JS Editions 07209, on Discocorp, the NYPS Society (on LP) in 1987, and privately from Indiana University. There are several inscriptions of her noble way with this work, and there is indeed Busch’s own with Ferrier and the Danish Radio Orchestra from 1949 [DACOCD301]. Well recorded at the Met with Anderson’s voice characterfully forward, this yields to none of these competing versions in directness and gravity. Arrau’s Chopin Concerto has also done the rounds over the years: the Indiana private release noted above, a Bruno Walter Society LP, Urania 22.145 and it’s also to be found housed in an unwieldy 20 CD box from Habana/JBM – as well as more congenially on a single CD on Music & Arts 1158. It’s a strong, sinewy reading, with an unshrinking violet approach all round. The slow movement doesn’t aim at delicate refinement and there’s some skittish, and authoritative playing in the finale.

Finally we have Beethoven’s Fifth; see also its appearance on the Indiana release, a Discocorp LP, and Urania 22.159. This receives a fleet, rugged and essentially Toscanini-like performance which reveals Busch’s hallmarks as a Beethovenian of distinction – as the other few surviving examples of his work amply demonstrate. One thing will perplex listeners however. There’s a swingeing cut in the finale. It doesn’t sound like tape loss because the rest of the concert is in decent sound and suffers no such problem. Might it have been for broadcast reasons – to keep the programme within a certain allotted time span? That seems more likely but I’m still somewhat surprised at Busch proving so amenable.

In short then this is a well compiled programme devoted to a conductor of high moral and musical qualities.

Jonathan Woolf