Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Overture – The Beautiful Melusine Op.32 [9:31]
Octet in E flat major – Scherzo (orchestral version) [4:16]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Egmont; overture Op.84 [8:21]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Dance Suite for Orchestra (arr. F Busch) [14:35]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan and Isolde – Prelude and Isolde’s Liebestod [16:30]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude and Interlude from Act III [12:14]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Midsommarvaka (Swedish Rhapsody No.1) op.19 [13:02]
Sinfonie-Orchester Winterthur (Mendelssohn)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner)
Konserthus Stiftelsens Orkester Malmö (Alfvén)/Fritz Busch
rec. Los Angeles 1946; Winterthur and Malmö 1949
GUILD GHCD 2366 [78:56]

Guild’s series devoted to Fritz Busch’s recordings, both studio and live, perhaps inevitably wears a rather lop-sided look. The reason is the scurrying about for off-air broadcast material to supplement the paucity of commercial engagements, a sad indictment of things when it comes to the conductor’s discography. Why didn’t he record more in the studio? It’s a question that, I’m sure, must have occupied admirers of the conductor, who fared much worse, in this respect, than his violinist brother Adolf.

But we must be grateful for what we do have. Take the two Mendelssohn performances, for example, which are the only studio items in this disc. The Overture to The Beautiful Melusine receives a reading of cogency and persuasive drama, whilst the Scherzo from the Octet is a perennial favourite, the performance of which has a vital and generous dynamism, without being at all rushed.

The concert performances come from Los Angeles and Malmö. Busch was in LA in March 1946, and we can hear him in the overture to Egmont, his own arrangement of some Schubert piano pieces, and in two large-scale Wagner works. One can’t help noting once again the somewhat quixotic programming. Egmont starts a bit slowly but gradually increases in tension, turbulence and dynamism, sweeping into the fugal entry points with power. It’s a great pity that the sound is so constricted and that there is so little sense of colour. It devitalises what was clearly a fine reading. The Schubert Dance Suite is pleasant but really of no great historical import. It’s nice to hear one of Busch’s rare arrangements at least. Probably the deft Trio is the pick of the four. The two Wagner extracts remind one as to this conductor’s excellence in this repertoire. There’s surging emotive power in the Tristan episode, but the last chord wavers and the sound is, once again, dull, as it is in the Mastersingers Prelude and Interlude from Act III.

The off-air performance of Alfvén’s Midsommarvaka, the Swedish Rhapsody No.1, op.19, seems to be the only example of Busch’s conducting in Malmö. The performance encapsulates very well the sprightliness and brio of the music, even its more bucolic moments. The spacious central section is well characterised, so too the fulsome drones and folk fiddle evocations of the later pages.

Interpretatively then, Busch directs with flair, and with insight. Sonically things are rather dull, even the Winterthur studio recordings.

Jonathan Wool

Busch directs with flair and insight. Sonically things are rather dull, even the Winterthur studio recordings.

see also review by Bob Briggs