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Adolf Busch (violin and director)
The Mozart Orchestral Recordings
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No.6 in D minor ‘Serenata Notturna’, K239 (1776) [11:39]
Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K219 ‘Turkish’ (1775) [26:57]
Symphony No. 34 in C major, K3383 (1780) [14:21]
Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218 (1775) [25:130]
Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor, K 546 [9:13]
Piano Concerto No. 14, in E flat major, K.449 (1784) [21:12]
Grosse Fuge in B flat, op.133 (1825-26) orch. Felix Weingartner (1906) [16:66]
Stafford SMITH (1750-1836)
The Star-Spangled Banner arr. Adolf Busch [1:29]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c. 1554/1557-1612)
Canzon per sonar primi toni a 10, Ch. 176 (1597) [3:00]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Chacony in G minor, Z.730 (c.1680) [8:04]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Litania, SWV 458 [10:10]
Christine Johnson (contralto)
New Choral Group
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Lukas Foss (continuo piano)
Busch Chamber Players, Orquesta de cámara de la Asociación Amigos de la Música/Adolf Busch (violin)
rec. 1937-51
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC639 [78:11 + 69:51]

Many years ago I reviewed three of the items in this twofer, the Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor, K 546, Serenade No.6 in D minor ‘Serenata Notturna’, K239 and the Piano Concerto No. 14, in E flat major, K.449, when they appeared on a Biddulph CD (see review). They appear now in a twofer devoted to Adolf Busch’s Mozart orchestral recordings. Maybe his brother Fritz may seem a more obvious object but Adolf’s prowess here, directing his son-in-law Serkin in the Piano Concerto and in directing his eponymous Chamber Players in the C minor Symphony, offers another perspective on the art of the Busch Brothers.

For Busch admirers, the two Violin Concertos are obvious first ports of call. He recorded the A major, K219 in Liederkranz Hall, New York in April 1945. Here he directs his own American version of the more famous European Busch Chamber Players, though it was itself staffed with excellent players. Busch phrases generously, as ever, and proves an admirable exponent. I sense he lost focus in a first movement tutti, as his intonation buckles for a brief while but this is still a buoyant reading with much solo refinement in the slow movement, where Busch often reigned sovereign. Still, small ensemble imprecisions had me calling out for Fritz to direct and it sounds like a disc turnover destabilised Busch’s rhythm for a small moment. Perhaps the best interpreted movement is the finale which is really full of vitality, character and wit, complete with an Eingängen and some emotive vibrato widening.

The Fourth Concerto is much more problematic. It is a previously unreleased live performance given in Buenos Aires with the Orquesta de cámara de la Asociación Amigos de la Música in June 1951, a year before he died and when he was not in good health. There is something heroic about Busch’s touring schedule even after suffering heart attacks and it is, of course, hugely valuable that this performance has been preserved so providentially. Nevertheless, the casual listener must be warned that the concerto is preserved in shattery sound, with acetate rumble and that there are numerous scuffs and other aural detritus that come between the ear and the music. Tuttis are dampened down, the sound is mushy and congested, and Busch is recessed in the balance. Busch’s phrasing in the slow movement, as one can hear, is seraphic but he audibly tires in the finale.

Symphony No.34 is a live recording made in Town Hall, New York City, in April 1944 and released on a disc overseen by the Office of War Information (Overseas Branch). Busch directs a buoyant and vigorous reading and it would be interesting to know if Fritz often directed this work, as my perception is that he favoured No.36.

The ‘bonus’ (non-Mozartian) tracks include a live sequence taken from a Town Hall concert in which Busch’s ensemble play alongside contralto Christine Johnson, the New Choral Group and Lukas Foss (piano continuo). There’s Busch’s own arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner, a fine Gabrieli Canzon and Purcell Chacony and finally an especially intense Schütz Litania, in Busch’s own arrangement. The final work is Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in the familiar Weingartner arrangement, recorded in Liederkranz Hall in 1941

Pristine Audio employs XR for this twofer, which means that the Serenata, the Piano Concerto and the Adagio and Fugue sound rather more forward and tonally expansive than in Rick Torres’ fine Biddulph transfer for Biddulph.

Jonathan Woolf

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