Franz SCHUBERT (1765-1807)
String Quartet in G, op.161, D.887 [39:49]
String Quartet in B flat, op.168, D.112 [25:03]
String Quartet in D minor, "Death and the Maiden", D.810 [33:06]
Fantasy in C, for violin and piano, op.159, D.934 [21.09]
Piano Trio in E flat major, op. 100, D. 929 [38:44]
Busch Quartet (Adolf Busch (violin I: all); Gösta Andreasson (violin II); Karl Doktor (viola); Hermann Busch (cello)); Rudolf Serkin (piano)
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 16 October 1936 (D.810); 22-30 November 1938 (D.887, D.112); 23 October 1935 (Trio); Small Queen's Hall, London, 6 May 1931 (Fantasia). ADD
REGIS RRC 3012 [3 CDs: 65:19 + 54:34 + 38:44] 

This is yet another re-issue of some of Schubert's finest chamber music performed by the famous Busch Quartet and Rudolf Serkin. These are rather ancient, yet well-preserved and surprisingly serviceable recordings of historical significance, re-mastered from original shellac 78s. 

The music will likely be familiar to music-lovers everywhere. There must be hundreds of recordings of some of these works, and they are as frequently performed today as they ever were. The liner-notes doubt there can be many recordings to rival the musicianship of the Busch Quartet and Rudolf Serkin, and there may be some truth in that. Certainly, critics are pretty unanimous in their appraisal: for example, when the D minor and G major Quartets appeared in EMI's 'Great Recordings of the Century' series (review), one reviewer claimed that these Busch accounts "will never be equalled, for range of expression and depth of insight."
Nevertheless, competition is immense. Taking just the famous D minor 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet, the Quartetto Italiano (Philips Duo 4461632), Takács Quartet (review), Lindsay Quartet (review), Borodin Quartet (review) and the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI 7473332) are all in the front rank by most accounts. Others of substantial merit include the Amadeus (review), Brandis (review), Kodály (Naxos 8.550590), Mandelring (review), Melos (Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951408), Belcea (review) and Jerusalem (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901990). Many of these recordings may be found on other labels too, and different listeners will have other front-runners.
Whether or not any of these can be considered alternatives will very likely come down to personal preference. Those who cannot enjoy great musicianship in sub-normal sound can forget these Busch recordings, just as those who want an outstanding reading of some of Schubert's key works without needing to understand the history of recordings can select at will from the above list and ignore Busch. On the other hand, for those who are able and willing to focus solely on the impassioned but unsentimental performances of musicians at the peak of their prowess, and a composer at the summit of his, these readings will be documents of significant historical and sentimental value.
The recording in poorest shape is the oldest, the 1931 Fantasy in C, which has a fair amount of inherited surface noise, an inherent tinniness and a somewhat recessed piano. The Trio sound too is rather threadbare in places. On the whole, however, all the recordings are perfectly listenable, processed but not over-processed, with the B flat Quartet actually emerging almost reasonable. In all cases the most jarring factor by far on modern ears is likely to be the monophonic sound. The light intrusion of motor vehicle noise at certain points is a bit of a surprise!
As usual, Regis have not exactly gone to town on the 'booklet' or notes: just the front-cover picture, back-cover track-listing, and two sides of unattributed information between the two. The notes are well written, with about a third on the Busch chamber ensembles and the rest on Schubert's music. Regis's somewhat laissez-faire approach is typified by a couple of uncorrected typos. 
Though this set is slightly less of a bargain that it first appears - by putting the Piano Trio with the G major Quartet, and the B flat Quartet with the D minor and Fantasia, these three CDs could just have been squeezed onto two. It can nonetheless be had at almost give-away prices on the internet; for less than the price of a single Naxos CD on some sites. For those not already in possession, cheapness is likely the main reason to go for this reissue.
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Impassioned but unsentimental … musicians at the peak of their prowess.