Adolf Busch: The Berlin Recordings 1921-1929 = BACH: Preludio, Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita in E Major; Partita in D Minor: Sarabande, Giga; Sonata in G Major, BWV 1021; Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004; BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 2 in D Minor; Hungarian Dance No. 20 in D Minor; Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor; CORELLI: Sonata in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 5; DVORAK: Slavonic Dance in A-flat Major; Slavonic Dance in G Minor; Romantic Piece, Op. 75, No. 1;  Humoresque in G-flat Major; TARTINI: Sonata in G Major, Op. 2, No. 12: Adagio; GOSSEC: Gavotte; KREISLER: “Dittersdorf” Scherzo; “Tartini” Variations on a Theme of Corelli; “Pugnani” Praeludium and Allegro; PORPORA: Aria in E Major; SCHUMANN: “Traumerei” from Kinderszenen; MOZART: String Quartet in D Major: Andante and Menuetto; VERDI: String Quartet in E Minor: Prestissimo; HOFSTETTER: “Haydn” Quartet in F Major, Op. 3, No. 5; SCHUBERT: String Quartet in G Major, D. 887: Scherzo –  Adolf Busch, violin/ Busch String Quartet/ Bruno Seidler-Winkler & Rudolf Serkin, piano – Guild GHCD 2406/7 (2 CDs), TT: 2:02:09 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Many consider violinist and chamber musician Adolf Busch (1891-1952) to rank supreme among German musicians, not only for the purity of his devotion to his art but for his determined political morality which refused to compromise his soul for the sake of Nazi approval. As early as 1933, the Busch Quartet ceased giving German concerts; and in 1937, when openly invited to return to Germany – an offer that included a tolerance for accompanist Rudolf Serkin, a Jew – Busch replied that “If you hang Hitler in the middle, with Goering on the left and Goebbels on the right, I’ll return to Germany.” Few artists, anyone for that matter, could claim the force of his convictions as the North Star of his life. Rudolf Serkin felt that Busch never truly recovered from the moral failure of his nation to stop the horror. Barely squeezing out a living in America as a teacher, advisor, and occasional soloist, Adolf Busch died without ever regaining his former glory or the respect that his colossal integrity warranted.

Guild collects all of the 1921-1922 sessions Busch recorded for Deutsche Grammophon Aktiengesellschaft company, accompanied by its director Bruno Seidler-Winkler. The metal masters of these discs the Nazis deliberately destroyed because of Busch’s willful resistance to their cause. The opening Brahms Hungarian Dances attest to the firepower Busch possessed. The famous G Minor (in the Joachim arrangement) definitely casts an old-world spirit among us, rife with mannerisms that have become high art. With the Corelli Adagio, we suddenly find ourselves assaulted by a masterly serenity of spirit. So, too, the Corti arrangement of the Tartini Adagio bespeaks a genuine “operatic” vocal line in Busch, in which the trills round off polished phrases. In spite of a “dry” acoustic – and a 1716 Stradivarius less sonorous than his later 1732 instrument – the singular tone and flexible line of the artist shine through.

A Nineteenth Century aesthetic infiltrates Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 3, but its gypsy impulses send us sparks. Guild offers two takes of the 1922 aggressive furiant, the G Minor Slavonic Dance, one a test pressing that differs from the official version by one second! The detached chords, piercing flute tone, and fiery pizzicati attest to passionately-tempered artist gifted with a stunning technical arsenal. The first (mislabeled “4” on the Guild credits) of the Op. 75 Romantic Pieces, the Larghetto, communicates in etched phrases a sweet nostalgia for a Paradise Lost. The dainty, naïve Humoresque in G-flat concludes the Dvorak group, a plain-spoken but loving rendition from the Wilhelmj arrangement.

The realization, suspected at first but admitted in 1935, that the so-called “discoveries” of Fritz Kreisler in fact were his own compositions eventually led Busch to discard others’ arrangements of classics in favor of his own. But Busch pays homage to Kreisler, first in his 1922 rendition of the staid Scherzo of Dittersdorf. The vivacious “Tartini” Variations exert a fulsome confidence in the series of breathless virtuoso effects they demand. The largest of the Kreisler pieces, the Pugnani Praeludium and Allegro, conveys from the outset a lofty poise and forward motion informed by a sweetly evolving melodic line. The Allegro, constantly moving in sweeping gestures and double notes, testifies to a stamina that never relinquishes its hold on the intrinsic pulsation of motion.

The Bach solo works recorded in 1922 initiated on records a tradition that would find acolytes in Yehudi Menuhin and Ruggiero Ricci. The famous Preludio in E projects an astonishing verve and pitched accuracy. Recorded on asbestos?  Remastering by Peter Reynolds, by the way, certainly exceeds my expectations for acoustic shellacs. The pliant Gavotte en Rondeau actually precedes this Preludio, having been inscribed in 1921. These discs appeared as six 10” and six 12” single-sided 78 rpm discs, part of the purple Schallplatte Grammophon label.

The Busch Quartet – with violins Busch and Goesta Andresson; viola Paul Doktor; and cello Paul Gruemmer – provides us four works inscribed as their premier efforts in 1922. The Hofstetter Quartet in F, once attributed to Haydn, exerts a gay energy, a healthy ensemble, spirited and accurate. The ubiquitous Andante cantabile – recall what use Ernie Kovacs could make of it – emits a winning charm in every note, plucked, bowed, or strummed. Mozart has representation from his K. 575 Quartet in D Major, with two movements of alternately haunting beauty, the Andante, followed by the sprightly Menuetto.  We can hear, even in ensemble, the Busch portamentos and “swooping” gestures that marked his style without undue distortion of the composer’s intentions. The addition of the Verdi E Minor Quartet came late to the ensemble, so it is rare and fortunate we have one recorded movement, the rollicking Prestissimo that features some lovely sounds in the Trio from Paul Doktor and Paul Gruemmer. The last of the series, the Scherzo from Schubert’s mighty G Major Quartet, anticipates the full recording of the work the Busch player made later. A dreamy plastic energy surges forth, much in the Mendelssohn tradition, but touched more by a sense of tragedy.

The collection concludes with a series of Bach inscriptions Busch made for His Master’s Voice (Electrola) beginning in 1928, already several years after the association had been proposed. The extant Bach Sarabande – the first of two test pressings – has lain dormant for decades; and it is lucky to exist at all, since its inadvertent bow error would have caused Busch to reject it. Of particularly striking presence, the Sarabanda from the D Minor Partita (23 April 1928) conveys a deep thoughtful resonance. Busch captured the fluid Giga in one take, 11 June 1929. Busch and Rudolf Serkin gave the modern premier of the Bach G Major Sonata, BWV 1021 (arranged by Busch and Blume) on 22 October 1929, recording the work at the Singakademie, Berlin two days later.  Originally, for the recording credits, Serkin wanted his name suppressed, lest he be label “accompanist” indefinitely. Today, the Busch-Serkin duo reigns among the great chamber music ensembles. The reverberant sound, though chaste in conception, far outshines its early date among electrical recordings. The Vivace seems to adumbrate Stravinsky in its metric shifts. The heart of the small gem, the Largo, occupies a special moment in time that leads directly into the joyful Presto, which quite sweeps us along in spontaneous collaboration.

The esteemed solo recording of the Bach D Minor Partita (8, 11 November 1929) in its entirety at the Beethovensaal, Berlin was only the second such enterprise, Henri Marteau’s having inscribed the E Major Partita as early as 1912. The Busch effort remains the first electrical recording of a solo Bach violin work, but the second occurred one day later, when a youthful Yehudi Menuhin recorded the C Major Sonata in London. A passionate chastity of means defines the Busch performance, but nothing anemic in this rendition exists. While some may find Busch overly “careful,” he means to preserve the accuracy and clarity of Bach’s lines, which he renders with a touching sympathy. I would not call his Corrente “tentative,” simply “direct.” The ensuing two movements had their “test pressings” only several months earlier, so a cleanly virile pair of movements follows, the Sarabanda and Giga. We come at last to the mighty Chaconne, which Menuhin called “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists.” Busch intends to highlight the vast harmonic motion of the piece, its singular affect spread out in three-part form as an unbroken series of variants.  Busch himself adapts his own rhythmic pulse at several places, and his glissandi and scooping figures remain within an older archaic tradition in Bach. But none shall deny the emotional-intellectual impetus of the Busch version, whose incremental exaltation exerts a mystical power that arises from absolute musical conviction.

—Gary Lemco