Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, op.102 [30:46]
Violin Concerto in D major, op.77 [37:51]
Adolf Busch (violin); Hermann Busch (cello)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/Paul Kletzki (op.102); Orchester der Stadt Basel/Hans Műnch (op.77)
rec. 21 June 1949, Palais des Fêtes, Strasbourg (op.102); 18 December 1951, Basel (op.77)

Max REGER (1873-1916)
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109 [40:12] (1)
Violin Sonata in F sharp minor, Op.84 Allegretto [2:38] (2)
Suite in an Old Style, Op.93 [19:01] (3)
Clarinet Quintet in A major, Op.146: Vivace [6:51] (4)
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109: Quasi Presto [3:59] (5)
Adolf Busch (violin) (1, 2); Rudolf Serkin (piano) (2, 3); Philipp Dreisbach (clarinet) (4); Busch Quartet (1); Wendling Quartet (4, 5)
rec. live broadcast, February 1951, Bavarian Radio, Munich (1); rec. May 1931, London (2); January 1941, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (3); 1929, Berlin (4); c. 1934, Berlin (5)

It’s been something of a ‘Buschfest’ for me recently. As well as enjoying the 16 CD set Adolf Busch and Busch Quartet – The Complete Warner Recordings, released in late 2015, I decided recently to tackle Tully Potter’s mammoth two volume biography of the violinist Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician (Toccata Press 2010).   Busch was born in Siegen, Westphalia in 1891 and had two brothers who were also distinguished musicians: Fritz the famous conductor and Hermann the cellist. He studied the violin with Willy Hess and Bram Elderling at the Cologne Conservatory and composition with Fritz Steinbach. After the First World War he founded the Busch Quartet which continued until 1951. In the late 1920s he became disillusioned and unhappy at the political situation emerging in Germany and in 1927 moved with his family and Rudolf Serkin, his future son in law, to Basel, Switzerland. Busch was appalled by the Nazis' treatment of the Jews when they came to power in 1933. From then on, until after the war, he boycotted Germany and later Italy. At the outbreak of the Second World War he emigrated to the States and settled in Vermont. There, together with Serkin, he founded the Marlboro School and Festival. He died in 1952.

The violinist inherited his passion for Brahms from Joachim, with whom he had some early contact, and from his teachers Hess, Elderling and Steinbach. The three Bs featured prominently in his repertoire and both the Brahms Violin Concerto and Double Concerto were mainstays of his concert career. Whilst the chamber works and sonatas form an integral part of his commercial discography, for the two concertos we have to rely on live airings.

The performance of the Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, op.102 we have here originates from the 11th Strasbourg Festival, subtitled ‘Festival de Musique Romantique’. The Festival had been founded in 1932 and Busch’s early associations with it dated back before the war. It was revived in 1947, and this performance formed part of a concert given in the Palais des Fêtes on 21 June 1949 with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française under Paul Kletzki. Hermann Busch, the violinist’s brother, took the cello role. It has had previous incarnations on the Music and Arts and Archipel labels, neither of which I’ve heard to offer transfer comparisons. Despite the less than ideal sound, which appears dim and distant in parts, the value of the performance lies in the fact that the two brothers play with one accord. The Potter biography cites several examples of their collaboration in this work. Their familiarity with it and like-mindedness of conception, strikes me as being apparent. It is the central Andante which particularly impresses, with both instrumentalists blending well. The ardent expressiveness of their playing, luxuriating in the music’s intense lyricism, has exceptional appeal. The finale has a real gypsy flavour, is rhythmically charged and exciting. Kletzki and his orchestra are supportive and engaging throughout.

Busch seems to have had a weak disposition, and throughout his life visited a health spa in Switzerland. In December 1951 he suffered two heart attacks, and that same year he lost two of his brothers Fritz and Willi. On 9 June 1952, he too succumbed. His last public performance, the Brahms Violin Concerto we have here, took place in Basel on 18 December 1952. The Orchester der Stadt Basel was conducted by Hans Műnch, cousin of Charles Műnch. The concert was broadcast live. By this time, the violinist had been performing the work for forty years, and the performance garnered favourable reviews from the critics. He uses his own cadenza, which he wrote in 1933. Again the performance has surfaced before on the Music and Arts and Arbiter labels. The sound quality of the Op. 77 is an improvement on the Double Concerto. Műnch paces the opening movement comfortably, and Busch surmounts the technical challenges with ease. His own virtuosic cadenza is ably negotiated. Again, it is the slow movement which is the most effective. The exquisitely phrased oboe solo at the beginning sets the scene for an Adagio of rarefied expressiveness. Busch relishes the music’s lyricism, which inspires some of the most incandescent violin playing I have ever heard. There’s an attractive bloom to the sound and the effect is breathtaking. Another positive factor is that he doesn’t overdo the portamenti. The finale is technically assured and is delivered with lusty exuberance.

Busch and Reger formed a strong musical friendship dating back to 1909 when the violinist and his brother Fritz performed the composer’s Violin Concerto in his presence, Adolf playing the solo part from memory. He would go on to perform the work for the rest of his life, re-orchestrating it in 1942, in order to ‘lighten’ the orchestral textures. Reger died in 1916 at the young age of forty-three. The violinist also championed the composer’s chamber works, and the String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109 we have here constitutes the most substantial document of Busch performing Reger. It is a studio performance for Bavarian Radio, taped 15 February 1951. In 1946/7 the Busch Quartet had been reformed with changes of personnel in the second violin and viola. The opening movement, which can tend to ramble in some hands is kept tightly focused. This is followed by a scherzo-like movement with plenty of wit and character. If its job is to lighten things up, it truly succeeds. Then comes the Larghetto, lyrical yet melancholic. The Busch Quartet’s reading is intense, and they confer an inward, probing quality of luminous warmth. The fugal finale has a sprightly spring in its step, with the lines crisply delineated.

The second movement Allegretto is all we have of Reger’s Violin Sonata in F sharp minor, Op.84 in this 1931 performance which the violinist recorded with Rudolf Serkin. It was set down as a filler for their recording of Schubert’s Grand Fantasia in C, D934. The more substantial Suite in an Old Style, Op.93 commands our attention more. It is a Library of Congress recording. The two were made in January 1941. The Bach-inspired Suite is a delight, with two lively outer movements framing a heartfelt Largo but let down to some extent by some unwieldy portamenti. In fine sound, the players give the impression that they’re enjoying every minute of it.

The two bonus tracks offer recordings made by the Wendling Quartet. Carl Wendling (1875-1962), the leader, was a pupil of Joachim and had been acquainted with Reger since 1904. He enjoyed the company of Adolf Busch and the two often played together in such works as the Bach Double Concerto. The Scherzo from Op. 109 was recorded c. 1934 for Electrola. Their performance, shorter in duration, is more humorous and capricious than the Busch's rendering. The Wendlings were the dedicatees of the Clarinet Quintet, and premiered it in November 1916, six months after the composer’s death. In 1929 they recorded this lively Scherzo.

These two releases are the latest in Guild’s series devoted to Adolf Busch. A CD devoted to Beethoven and another to the Berlin Recordings (1921-1929) I have reviewed previously. These latest offerings come in warm, vibrant transfers from Peter Reynolds. Accompanying annotations in English are supplied by Jürgen Schaarwächter of the Max-Reger-Institut.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous reviews: Rob Maynard (Brahms) ~~ Jonathan Woolf (Reger)


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