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Fritz Busch (conductor)
In Vienna
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 3 in E-flat major, Op 55 ‘Eroica’ (1804) [43:41]
Symphony No 7 in A, Op 92 (1811-12) [35:37]
Symphony No 8 in F, Op 93 (1812) [27:02]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No 101 in D major Hob.1:101 'The Clock' (1793/4) [28:17]
Niederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester
Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven 7)
rec. October 1950 Nrahmssaal, Musikverein, Vienna and 15 October 1950, live broadcast on Rundfunkkonzert Radio Rot-Weiss-Rot (Beethoven 7)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC614 [70:42 + 63:42]

Fritz Busch’s Beethoven discography was immeasurably strengthened by his sojourn in Copenhagen and by his Remington recording dates in Vienna, along with scattered American examples that have happily survived. The Vienna studio recordings in October 1950 were made, less than a year before his too-early death, with the Niederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester and produced by Marcel Prawy.

The Eroica opens with startling reverberation after the opening orchestral chords and I suspect that XR has been liberally employed to deal with one of the endemic problems of the Remington sessions which was lightness in the bass, a consequence one assumes of a less than optimum microphone setting and sub-par LP pressings. Together this produced a rather narrow bandwidth in terms of vertical sound, something that certainly could not be levelled at this restoration which presents graphically the forward winds and rich bass line, even if the somewhat shrill upper strings cannot be entirely tamed.

The orchestra may well not be the best-known Viennese ensemble but apart from the occasionally glassy violins the sectional discipline is relatively strong. I also happen to find Busch’s reading immensely powerful and moving and a perfect summation of his powers of direction and intensity in the symphonic repertoire. At the same sessions he recorded Symphony No 8, from which he draws a spirited performance in a reading of vitality. Whilst the problems inherent in the original Remington LP remain, they matter less in the Eighth.

Just before he began these Remington sessions Busch gave a live radio reading of the Seventh Symphony over Rundfunkkonzert Radio Rot-Weiss-Rot. Busch’s control of dynamics sounds to me to have been materially affected by the radio engineers who seem to have pulled back at several points in the fortes but what can’t be argued against is the strength and purpose of Busch’s conception. The Allegretto hardly follows quicker exponents but it is taken at the same tempo taken by Furtwängler and Koussevitzky, to cite two radically different conductors, and to me this confers a greater weight of gravity to the music making. Together the three symphonies go some way to establishing Busch as a major mid-century exponent of this repertoire, to which one would need to add his Chicago First, New York Fifth and Copenhagen Ninth.

Busch was a natural Haydn conductor. His gruff good humour seems to match the composer’s own and it is therefore doubly fortunate that there was sufficient time at the Remington sessions for Symphony No 101, ‘The Clock’ to have been recorded but this time with the Vienna Symphony. It was not just Busch’s humour, of course, that made him so effective a Haydn interpreter - it was his humanity. He had recorded No 88 in Copenhagen for HMV and this Viennese recording is no mere pendent, it’s a worthy confrere.

The helpful one-page note is by Jürgen Schaarwächter. These restorations have taken the original material by the scruff of its neck and overhauled it. You may not approve but the results are certainly striking.

Jonathan Woolf

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