Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise, Op. 83 [10:10]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 [27:00]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 [37:32]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani [5:01]
Guila Bustabo (violin)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Werner Schmid-Boelcke (Saint-SaŽns); NDR (Hannover) Radio Orchestra/Thomas Ungar (Bruch); Orchestra dellas Svizzera Italiana/Jean Fournet (Sibelius); Hans Altmann (piano) (Kreisler)
rec. January 1959, Munich Haus des Sports, Bavarian Radio (Saint-SaŽns); May 1964, live, Landesfunkhaus, Hannover, North German Radio (Bruch); May 1965, live, Lugan, Teatro Kursaal, Radiotelevisione Svizzera (Sibelius); December 1958, Munich Studio BR, Bavarian Radio (Kreisler)
MELOCLASSIC MC2029 [79:44]

Regrettably, I missed the first instalment from Meloclassic of Guila Bustabo’s radio recordings, which was issued in 2014 (review); more’s the pity, as the quality of playing on offer here is impressive on all counts. These radio recordings were taped between 1958 and 1965. The two concertos are marked as live, and indeed there is an audience present, registering its applause in both cases.

The Wisconsin-born violinist (1916-2002) studied with Louis Persinger, George Enescu and JenŲ Hubay and, at the start of her career, received the encouragement and endorsement of Toscanini, Kreisler, Beecham and Ernest Schelling. The bulk of her concertizing took place before the last war. She remained in Europe with her mother during World War II. After the war, her career never fully took off again, as she was accused of fraternizing with the Nazis. This led to her arrest in 1946, but she was released shortly afterwards due to lack of evidence. She devoted many of her remaining active years to teaching, where she held a post in Innsbruck from 1964 to 1970. For a time she played in the first violin section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Thereafter she lived the life of a recluse, plagued by bipolar disorder.

The Saint-SaŽns Havanaise is one of the finest I’ve heard. The expressive portamenti in the opening theme are intensely nuanced and sensual. The sparkling spiccatos are a delight, and the devilish chromatic thirds and sixths in the final part are smooth, flowing and, most importantly, in tune. In the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani, the Allegro is taken at breakneck speed, with the spiccatos once again well-negotiated.

There’s an alternative recording of the Bruch Violin Concerto in which the violinist is partnered by Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw, dated 27 October 1940, but I’ve never heard it to compare. This later one, taped in Hannover in 1964, is eloquent and passionate. Bustabo savours the lyrical moments, of which there are many, with rarefied expressiveness. My only criticism would be the slightly overdone slides and position changes in the slow movement; one can get too much of a good thing. The finale brims with exuberance and buoyancy and has plenty of character and vim.

Bustabo’s personality is reflected in her playing. Often impetuous, there are tantalizing moments of excitement and, very often, an edge of the seat feeling. Her vibrato has a tendency to remain on the rapid side, limiting her colour to some extent. Of the recordings here, I think that the Sibelius Concerto benefits the most from her passionate nature. It’s certainly the highlight of the disc. She played the Concerto for the composer as early as 1937, and Sibelius remarked that she ‘played it exactly as I imagined it when I wrote it’ – high praise. We are fortunate to have two recordings of it. As well as this live 1965 airing, there is a commercial German Columbia recording made between 1935 and 1941 in which the violinist is supported by the Berlin State Orchestra under Fritz Zaun. This was issued in a 2 CD set in 1993 by A Classical Record entitled ‘The Bustabo Legacy’. It was interesting doing a head-to-head comparison between the two versions. Although similar in conception, this later airing benefits from much better sound. The Columbia is a noisy transfer.

The Concerto, in Bustabo’s hands, is icily rugged, which suits the character of the music. Her impressive technical arsenal is brought into play. The double-stop passages in the opening movement sing out with added vibrancy. The status of her intonation is, on the whole, good. The slow movement is heartrending and fervid. In the finale she unleashes some pent up energy in a reading overflowing with exhilaration and passionate intensity, yet never sounding frenetic.

As the Bustabo recorded legacy is lean, to say the least, Meloclassic have done us a great service in releasing these vintage radio takes. They all shape up well as far as sound is concerned, and Michael Waiblinger’s interesting annotations are invaluable.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf