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Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Violin Concerto in D, Op 35a (1896-97) [22:53]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98 (1885) [38:06]
Siegfried Borries (violin)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Artur Rother
rec. 1949 (Brahms) and 1951 (Busoni), Berlin

From the vaults comes this 1951 recording of Busoni’s Violin Concerto made by Siegfried Borries with the Berlin Radio Symphony and Artur Rother. It, like the companion 1949 recording of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, was made by Urania. The Brahms was also released on The Classics Club LP.

In recent years Frank Peter Zimmermann has performed and recorded the Concerto with great success though I have fond memories of the darker-toned Tanja Becker-Bender’s Hyperion disc. Back in 1951 things were very different and there had been no commercial recording of the work. It was also a trying year for Borries, leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, who was temporarily suspended from his position at the Hochschule für Musik. For more on him see my brief comments regarding a Meloclassic disc devoted to his wartime broadcasts (review). The Concerto wears its affiliations proudly; Brahmsian, in places, referencing the Beethoven Concerto’s passagework, profusely lyric in a post-Bruchian way, even extending to folkloric affiliations. And yet, for all this, the work manages to cohere when performed with unabashed commitment, as Szigeti demonstrated in his preserved 1941 performance. Borries shows it too and better here than when he collaborated with Celibidache in a performance best presented on Audite where Celi’s slow speeds plumbed the music’s gravity but succeeded also in devitalising Borries’ natural tempi. Borries binds the music’s lyricism and its extrovert qualities soundly, reminding me more than once of the approach Adolf Busch took when performing the concerto in Amsterdam in 1936 with Bruno Walter, fortunately preserved like the Szigeti (the last named was also taped in the work with Previtali in Rome in 1952). Borries proves full of character, pirouetting in the finale, exuberant but precise, Rother with him every step of the way.

A couple of years earlier Rother, then in his mid-60s recorded Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. Brahms was a composer central to his repertoire and in fact one of his very earliest 78s had been a recording of the Academic Festival Overture. The sound here is somewhat squashed in perspective but acceptable for the time. The horns certainly register as does the percussion. Rother adopts good tempi and tempo relationships. He lacks Toscanini’s visionary Mediterranean lyricism, as one would expect, expounding instead Germanic virtues – more rigorous though less explosive and profound than Knappertsbusch but certainly no Kapellmeister in interpretation. This is a sane, metrically flexible approach, hardly earth-shattering in conception or execution but representative of Rother’s strengths in symphonic repertoire.

There are no notes as is almost always the case, but FR provides a few internet links to pursue. Transfers are unobtrusively excellent and taken direct from the two LPs concerned. Given they are now 70 years old only those intrigued by the performers will be interested in this release, but they can be assured of fine, devoted performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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