Max REGER (1873-1916)
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109 (1909) [40:12]
Violin Sonata in F sharp minor, Op.84 Allegretto (1905) [2:38]
Suite in an Old Style, Op.93 (1906) [19:01]
Clarinet Quintet in A major, Op.146: Vivace [6:51]
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109: Quasi Presto (1909) [3:59]
Adolf Busch (violin)
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Philipp Dreisbach (clarinet)
Busch Quartet, Wendling Quartet
rec. 1929-51

Though it’s been issued before on CD, the Busch Quartet’s performance of Reger’s Quartet in E flat major is an important document. Largely this is because Adolf Busch was so loyal a proponent of Reger’s music and as a young man had earned Reger’s admiration. The quartet was taped in February 1951 in Munich during a European tour by the quartet. Busch was to die the following year.

This is a typically discerning performance by the last incarnation of the quartet, though the tensions of a live radio performance show themselves in some intonation imprecisions and some untidiness in ensemble. The rather rugged sound is not the equal of that cultivated by the pre-war ensemble, but this was a relatively new line-up of the quartet. That said, the long episodes of the opening movement in particular are finely articulated – not least those almost Renaissance consort-sounding moments where the group’s tone becomes withdrawn to a marked and remarkable degree. So too one hears in the sterner corners of the music the abrasive qualities Busch could bring and enforce. The stalking pizzicati of the scherzo are genially done, Busch reserving the deepest tonal amplitude for the slow movement – masculine but tender and full of the famed Busch long bow. The gruff fugato in the finale is stirringly done. Fortunately other examples of that quartet’s tour exist – Meloclassic, for example, has issued a Frankfurt coupling of Brahms and Beethoven from a few weeks before this Reger broadcast [MC4000].

APR reissued the little Allegretto from the Sonata in F sharp minor recorded in London in 1931 [APR 5542] which is good to hear, even out of context – he didn’t record any more from it at this recording date. Of greater breadth is the 1941 Suite in the Old Style, with his son-in-law Rudolf Serkin, recorded live at the Library of Congress in Washington. This is truly stirring, with baroque-derived panache audible throughout. Busch’s tone is unusually fervid at points in the Largo, where he employs some rich portamentos, but is not quite steady at the very end of the movement. Serkin goes to town in the finale, almost drowning out Busch. Merited applause breaks out.

The bonus tracks are non-Busch. The Wendling Quartet recorded the scherzo (Quasi presto) from the Reger Quartet for Electrola in Germany in c.1934 and here it is – technically more precise but less atmospheric and avuncular than the Busch. The quartet is joined by clarinettist Philipp Dreisbach for the Vivace second movement from Reger’s Clarinet Quintet. This was recorded in 1929. Karl Wendling was almost a generation older than Busch but they enjoyed a congenial friendship and this is a fine souvenir of his quartet.

With good notes and transfers, this is another very recommendable release from Guild’s intelligently programmed Busch series.

Jonathan Woolf

Performance details

Quartet in E flat: Busch Quartet, rec. live broadcast, February 1951, Bavarian Radio, Munich
Sonata: Adolf Busch (violin) Rudolf Serkin (piano), rec. May 1931, London
Suite: Adolf Busch (violin) Rudolf Serkin (piano), rec. January 1941, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Quintet: Philipp Dreisbach (clarinet): Wendling Quartet, rec. 1929, Berlin
Quartet presto: Wendling Quartet, rec. c. 1934, Berlin

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