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Adolf BUSCH (1891-1952)
Serenade for String Quartet in G, Op.14 (1918) [22:50]
Seven Bagatelles for clarinet, viola and cello, Op.53a (1936) [11:01]
German Dances in F major for clarinet, violin and cello, Op.26c (1926) [7:34]
Duet in B flat major for violin and clarinet, Op.26b (1921) [12:39]
Variations on an original theme in F major for clarinet and string quartet, Op.53c (1942) [3:21]
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet)
Eisler Quartet
rec. March 2012, Fürstenhaus Festsaal, Hochschule für Musik
CAVI-MUSIC 8553268 [57:20]

The violinist Adolf Busch, distinguished soloist and first violinist of the quartet that bore his, and his cellist-brother’s name, wrote music throughout most of his life; seventy works with opus numbers, in total. We’ve yet to get to get to grips with the Symphony or either of the concertos - one for his own instrument, the other for piano - or indeed the lieder that he had begun to write as a student, songs largely based on poems by Mörike, Hans Sachs and Theodor Storm. Here, though, we have an opportunity to encounter a subset of his compositional output - works for clarinet and strings.
 
Chamber music looms large in his compositional output, as one might expect of a great chamber player and Hausmusik in particular. This is the name given to his Op.26 which consists of three pieces written in 1921 but published five years later. From it we hear the Duet for violin and clarinet, and the German Dances. The Duet has a Mozartian lightness of touch, though it’s not necessarily that to be found in his celebrated Duos for violin and viola. Busch is an assured but non-doctrinaire contrapuntalist and writes engagingly but also simply for the two instruments. The slow movement is warmly conceived, and the finale playfully done. The German Dances are written for clarinet, violin and cello. Starting with a languid waltz things pick up via a vivace section full of elegant bonhomie.
 
Much earlier, in 1918, he had written his Serenade for String Quartet, which became one of his most popular works, and which his quartet often performed. A critic of the time alluded to Seville in discussing the first movement, but I can’t hear anything quite so Iberian. In fact the moods and reflections are quite frankly and unpretentiously expressed, and very well distributed amongst the four voices. A genial march is followed by a sweetened elegy and that by an exciting scherzo with a freighted melancholy trio. The most impressively constructed part of the work is the nine-minute finale, a theme and variations with a real sense of contrast and cleverness, calling for some corporate skill.
 
The Bagatelles for clarinet, viola and cello (1936) were part of his Op.53. There are seven very brief pieces, Hausmusik in the best sense. Also part of that opus number is the final work in the programme, the Variations on an original theme in F major for clarinet and string quartet, composed in 1942 by which time Busch was living in America. The theme is based on a Busch song setting of 1907 and he unfolds four very mellifluous and engaging variations, in compressed time. The whole thing is over in under three-and-a-half-minutes.
 
These committed and elegant performances advance Busch’s cause on CD as a modest but effective composer.
 
Jonathan Woolf