BACH: Solo Violin Sonata No 3 in C Major, BWV 1005; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 – Adolf Busch, violin/ New York Philharmonic/ Fritz Busch – Biddulph

by | May 24, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Solo Violin Sonata No 3 in C Major, BWV 1005; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 – Adolf Busch, violin/ New York Philharmonic/ Fritz Busch

Biddulph  80211-2, 62:04 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Here is a collectors’ item in a true sense, the Beethoven Violin Concerto as performed 9 February 1942 with violinist Adolf Busch (1891-1952), the eminent pupil of Joseph Joachim and Jeno Hubay. Busch played the Beethoven Concerto as early as 1910, and he had as his mentor the eminent Brahms conductor Fritz Steinbach, who was no less an influence on Arturo Toscanini in German music. The Busch brothers’ music god at the time was Max Reger. Busch played the Beethoven Concerto a documented 400 times. He received his first solo recording contract, from Columbia, late in his career (1939) although his Busch Quartet had HMV contracts dating back to the early 1930s. While many who reflect on Busch’s style call it “severe,” “literalist,” and “dry,” they miss the Slavonic element in his playing that made his Dvorak interpretations very special, whether of the E-flat Quartet, Op. 51 or the extant reading of the Violin Concerto. An intellectual artist on the par of Szigeti, Busch was an accomplished composer and conductor as well, and his versions of the Bach Suites and even the Beethoven Grosse Fuge were staples of my early listening history.

The program opens with the 18 May 1942 reading of the C Major Solo Sonata by Bach, a work included on an early Columbia LP (ML 4309) coupled with Istomin’s D Minor Concerto by Bach with the Busch Chamber Players. The high energy and surface gloss of Busch’s realization is stirring and emotionally driven. One can easily see the motivic force as influential on Busch’s famous pupil Menuhin, whom, ironically, EMI contracted to record the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, despite his relative immaturity. Balancing motor ferocity and balanced lines in Bach, Busch makes a great impression with the Fuga and Allegro assai sections, creating an exacting sense of inevitability and formal rightness.

In the Beethoven Concerto, we have a collaboration with Adolf’s high-minded brother Fritz Busch (1890-1951), whose moral principles made him reject the Nazis’ offer to make him the highest musical authority in Germany. Always intensely energetic on the podium, Fritz Busch was no less demanding of orchestral delicacy. Curiously, producer Goddard Lieberson had Adolf stand on a raised box to be nearer the microphone, and this placement caused Adolf to reject the recording for its lack of balance. Still, the orchestral tissue is quite present, and we can enjoy the tympani, oboe, bassoon, flute, and horn riffs as they follow the violin’s labyrinthine half-steps through the opening movement. Busch’s line is long and lean, shades of Nathan Milstein, although with a totally different tone and color. When the melody shifts to the high registers, it sails forth like a divine message from heaven. Busch plays his own cadenza, which combines the martial motif with some extraordinary modulations, upward slides, double stops, and downshifts.  Frankly, the tonal balance disturbs me not at all–Heifetz would have delighted in spotlighting the solo. The G Major Larghetto is all chaste beauty; no Jackie Coogan playing Hamlet here. Just a touch of 19th Century portamento if you listen closely. A little sizzle in the brief cadenza leads to a wiry, lithe final Rondo – strings, horns, winds, and tympani in lively, resonant form. Busch pushes hard, his brother right with him. The nobility of phrase for the lyrical counter-theme is worth the price of admission. The sparks continue to fly right to Busch’s final cadenza, a Paganini etude; then the key change and the knottily tender gallop to the conclusion, a merging of kindred spirits, if shellacs ever captured one.

— Gary Lemco

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