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Adolf BUSCH (1891-1952)
Chamber Music Volume 1: Clarinet and strings
Duet in B flat major for violin and clarinet, Op.26a (1921) [5:07]
Suite in F major for clarinet, violin, viola and cello Op.62a (1944) [20:24]
Seven Bagatelles for clarinet, viola and cello, Op.53a (1936) [12:58]
Serenade in A major Op.53b (c.1936) [18:30]
Variations on an original theme in F major for clarinet and string quartet, Op.53c (1942) [3:39]
Romanze for clarinet, two violas and two cellos Op.53d (1943) [5:47]
Humoreske in A major, for clarinet, trumpet, viola and double bass BoO 15 (1907) [5:04]
Bettina Beigelbeck (clarinet)
Busch Kollegium Karlsruhe
rec. October 2012, May and July 2013, Canisiushaus, Karlsruhe

It was not that long ago that I was listening to clarinettist Wolfgang Meyer and the Eisler Quartet playing a similar kind of programme. 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. As I wrote in my review of that Cavi-Music disc, 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. The works for clarinet and strings are what I called a subset of his output and so it proves here, though Toccata’s programme ranges just a bit wider and includes no fewer than five world premiere recordings. It’s the first in a series of Busch’s complete chamber music.
The overlap is the Seven Bagatelles and the Variations on an original theme. In both cases the Meyer-Eisler team is just a bit quicker, slightly minimising Busch’s melodies from becoming over-familiar, at least in the latter case, the Variations. Busch enjoyed Hausmusik and one of the advantages of Toccata’s disc is that we have the four Op.53 pieces as a sequence.
The Second Duet, heard in the Cavi-Music disc (but not here), is somewhat Mozartean but the companion First is rather more Bachian, though the contrapuntalism, as so often with Busch the Composer, is non-doctrinaire. It also reveals his saucy Classicism as well as his perky, droll sense of humour in music that remains wholly unpretentious. The Suite in F major was written in 1944. It’s decidedly more withdrawn, even melancholy in places though I wouldn’t wish to suggest anything more funereal than that. There’s room for a double fugue before the mood lightens and Classical poise enters, as indeed does the spirit of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet for a few bars. The Bagatelles were written in Swiss exile and are brief character pieces, light and charming. The Variations (1942) is written for clarinet and string quartet. The theme itself 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 around three-and-a-half-minutes. The Romanza was a Christmas present, warm, but not especially distinctive. Finally to the Humoreske for the combination of clarinet, trumpet, viola and double bass: this is pre-Regerian Busch and the result is quite clean-limbed albeit a bit Straussian too. It’s harmonically engaging, to be sure.
The performances are hard-working and assiduous. The music remains charming, occasionally droll, and without much real depth, though I should add that depth wasn’t often the intent.
Jonathan Woolf