Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade in D major K 250 Haffner (1776) [46:24] ¹
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major D.485 (1816) [23:53]
Peter Rybar (violin) ¹
Sinfonie-Orchester Wintherthur/Fritz Busch
rec. August or September 1949, Stadthaus, Winterthur
GUILD GHCD 2352 [70:36]

Guild’s Fritz Busch retrospective reaches the 1949 recordings of Mozart’s Haffner Serenade and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, made in Wintherthur. These are certainly not amongst the most celebrated of his corpus of discs, and nor in truth are they the best recorded, but they do offer valuable perspectives on his music-making in canonic works. Other, smaller pieces were recorded at the same time – by Mendelssohn – but these will appear on a forthcoming disc.

It was Peter Rybar, the orchestra’s leader, who encouraged Busch to make these recordings, though the latter had been performing in Switzerland since at least 1923. They were made for Concert Hall Society. The location turns out to have been the Gottfried Semper Stadthaus, which Rybar remembered as having a splendid acoustic, but which isn’t flattered by the rather rough and ready set-up.

The performances are in the main characteristically robust, direct and honest. Busch’s tempi are usually quite spruce, and his fondness for jettisoning repeats notable. It was his general practice. We can also admire the state of the orchestra – nothing flashy, but good, the bass-up sonorities not too saturated. Indeed the pointing of the bass line in the Haffner’s opening movement is well calibrated, the accents biting tautly, rhythms rugged and yet malleable. Rybar is an elegant soloist when called upon, graceful and not guilty of either over-vibrating or engaging in gauche slides. His articulation in the fourth movement Rondo is pert and incisive, and briskly effective. The Menuetto galante is perhaps rather more of the former than the latter but elsewhere the solid ensemble sound is effective and, when they can, the orchestra’s wind players get to pipe up in the finale.

The Haffner Serenade is followed by Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. The first movement can be quite stern in places, though the answering and tapering string and wind phrases are well attended to and not over-pushed. There’s a certain muscular quality to the music making. The slow movement though is surprisingly relaxed in tempo. The first flute plays well here, and when the music eddies into more expansive and declamatory waters the temperature rises accordingly. The finale is well judged – buoyant and exciting. Of Beecham’s charm – to which not everyone is susceptible – there is not much evidence.

Jürgen Schaarwächter’s notes are very helpful in elucidating the facts regarding the somewhat obscure recording details, and have synthesised recent information very adeptly indeed. There’s a terrific picture of the Stadthaus and pages from Busch’s pocket diary relating to his Swiss visit.

You would need to be a Busch collector to add this to your archive, given the grainy recordings – perfectly serviceable but not quite up to 1949 standard – and the repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf

For the Busch collector, given the grainy recordings – perfectly serviceable but not quite up to 1949 standard