Adolf Busch - The Berlin Recordings 1921-29
Adolf Busch (violin)
Bruno Seidler-Winkler (piano); Rudolf Serkin (piano) in the Bach sonata
Busch String Quartet (Adolf Busch (violin); Gösta Andreasson (violin); Paul Doktor (viola); Paul Grümmer (cello))
rec. 1921-29, Berlin
Full track-listing below
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2406-07 [56:16 + 65:53]
This is the first time that Adolf Busch's complete surviving acoustic recordings with Bruno Seidler-Winkler, made between 1921 and 1922, have been reissued in one set. To add to this bounty Guild Historical adds the 1922 recordings of the Busch Quartet, and Adolf Busch's Bach recordings of 1928-29. This ensures that 'The Berlin Records' spanning almost the whole of the 1920s is presented complete. As a further inducement there are three surviving test pressings: an alternative pressing to the issued 1922 Dvorák Slavonic Dance, Op.46 No.8 and the two single movements from Bach's Partita in D minor recorded in April 1928 (Sarabande) and June 1929 (Gigue). The work was eventually recorded successfully in November 1929 and is the last item in this comprehensive twofer.

Over the years there seemed to be a dichotomous critical reaction to Busch. Many European critics venerated him, whilst Americans - used to the high brilliance of the Russian school in their midst - remained sniffy about his later technical problems. The more the moral question was raised - Busch was an implacable foe of National Socialism and left as soon as Hitler came to power - the more some critics countered it with advancement of his Quartet at the expense of Busch as a solo artist. Things seem to have steadied now, though there is still something of a San Andreas Fault regarding his solo performances. I'm not sure that this release, even when it shows Busch at his most adventurous and unbridled - as he was not in the 1930s and certainly early 1940s when illness had him in its grip - will necessarily change that perception but I do think that if you know only the later recordings these early ones will give you a jolt.

That's primarily for their fire and metrical freedom. That's especially true of the Kreisler confection that he generously foisted on Pugnani, the one Kreisler famously didn't record. It shows Busch as something of a firebrand, foreshadowing aspects of tempo relations that marked out his eponymous quartet; fast movements taken very fast, slow movements very slow. That element might work over the course of a performance of a string quartet but it doesn't work in a piece like this which, in Busch's hands, is metrically over-free and ends with a really excessive piece of emoting. The only advantage it has over Albert Sammons' slightly earlier and abridged Columbia recording is that DG's five-minute side-takes in the whole work. Otherwise, Sammons shows Busch the heel with a performance that is fiery, virtuosic, tonally expressive and rhythmically on the money.

These conflicting feelings recur throughout the small pieces that line the first CD. Busch's flexibility is often exciting but sometimes cavalier. He employs far more portamenti than many will expect. I've never bought the idea of Busch as the great Brahms Champion - not at a time when Kreisler and Huberman were still at their zenith - and it's far better to cut the superlatives and note that he was one of the composer's most resilient and consistent champions. The Hungarian Dances that he recorded are certainly played with fiery intensity, though some of the slides in the D minor are over-calculated. He was a devoted exponent of Dvorák, though I find him an inconsistent one, especially of the Concerto. He essays the Slavonic Dances and other pieces in these acoustic recordings sleekly and with vigour, though I sometimes find the essential Czech accent missing. The Romantic Piece is mislabelled No.4 (it's No.1) and is full of wrenching slides and some unsubtly perfumed phrasing. Some of the most interesting issues surround those single-movement pieces of baroquerie he was reluctant to record - Corelli, Tartini - and the early 1922 Bach sides. The former are played with romanticist conviction, and in the case of the Tartini Adagio, in the then-famous Corti arrangement, with extrovert intensity. The Bach single-movements from the E major Partita, however, are far more reserved, far more stylistically self-aware and forward-thinking.

Like many quartet performances of the time the Busch was quite limited in terms of what it could record. Thus there were two inner movements from Mozart's K575 - slightly sugary, Busch was not the ideal Mozart performer - the Prestissimo from Verdi, the scherzo from Schubert's G major, D887 and the Hofstetter in F major, for so long attributed to Haydn, which was at least recorded complete. These sides allow us to hear the early formation of the group on disc - Adolf Busch and Gösta Andreasson (violins), Paul Doktor (viola) and Paul Grümmer (cello). Busch and his son-in-law Rudolf Serkin join forces in their 1929 recording of Bach's Sonata in G major, and we end with a magisterial performance of the Partita in D minor, culminating in the Chaconne. This, more than anything, points the direction Busch's musical imperatives were to take over the next decade and a half. The extrovert cavalier was replaced by the more sober performer.

A number of these recordings appeared on Symposium 1109 back in 1992. Tully Potter's extensive notes for that release have been cut down to an authoritative four-page essay for this Guild CD, though the gist remains. Symposium's transfers employed minimal filtering, thus ensuring that the recordings had plenty of surface crackle but quite a lot of air. By contrast, these new ones by Peter Reynolds have very little surface noise and are very much more filtered. To me it is too much, and a compromise between the two would be my ideal solution, though I appreciate that this might not happen very soon, given the exhaustive nature of this collection.

Quibbles aside, this is an important acquisition for the violin-fancier and can be commended for its comprehensiveness and, not least, its generosity in presenting alternative takes.

Jonathan Woolf

Full track-listing
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) (arr. Joachim)
Hungarian Dance No. 2 in D minor [2:50]
Hungarian Dance No. 20 in D minor [2:02]
Arcangelo Corelli (arr. Busch) (1653-1713)
Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 5: Adagio [3:09]
Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) (arr. Press)
Slavonic Dance in A flat major, Op. 46, No. 3, b78 [4:06]
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita in E major, bwv1006, for solo violin: Preludio [3:16]
Partita in E major, bwv1006, for solo violin: Gavotte en Rondeau [2:44]
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) (arr. Corti)
Sonata in G major, Op. 2, No. 12: Adagio [3:05]
Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) (arr. Press)
Romantic Piece, Op. 75, No. 1, b150: Larghetto [3:01]
François Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) (arr. Burmester)
Gavotte from 'Rosine' [1:58]
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Dittersdorf' Scherzo [2:35]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) (arr. Hüllweck)
Kinderszenen, Op. 15: Träumerei [3:22]
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) (arr. Corti)
Aria in E major [3:00]
Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) (arr. Press)
Slavonic Dance in G minor, Op. 46, No. 8, b78 [3:24]
Slavonic Dance in G minor, Op. 46, No. 8, b78 [3:25]
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
'Tartini' Variations on a Theme of Corelli [2:59]
Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) (arr. Wilhelmj)
Humoresque in G flat major, Op. 101, No. 7, b187 [3:08]
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
'Pugnani' Praeludium and Allegro [4:59]
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) (arr. Joachim)
Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor [2:16]
Roman Hofstetter (1742-1815)
'Haydn' String Quartet in F major, Op. 3, No. 5 - I. Presto [2:53]: II. Andante cantabile [4:02] III. Menuett [3:19] IV. Scherzando [2:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
String Quartet in D major, K575: Andante [4:58]: Menuetto [4:10]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
String Quartet in E minor: Prestissimo [2:32]
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet in G major, D887: Scherzo: Allegro vivace [4:29]
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita in D minor, BVW 1004, for solo violin: Sarabanda [3:37]
Partita in D minor, BVW 1004, for solo violin: Giga [1:57]
Sonata in G major, BWV1021 (arr. Busch, Blume) [8:02]
Partita in D minor, BWV1004, for solo violin [22:06]

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