BEETHOVEN: Quartet No. 9 in C Major; Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor – Busch Quartet – Dutton

by | Oct 22, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3; Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131 – Busch String Quartet

Dutton CDBP 9773,  71:05  (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:

Exquisitely quiet and “present” restorations, 1933 and 1936, from the recorded legacy of virtuoso violinist and chamber music specialist Adolf Busch (1891-1952), who influenced both Yehudi Menuhin and a range of  musicians from the Marlboro Music Festivals. Many consider the Busch Quartet among the finest string quartet ensembles of all time, and these renditions of the C Major and C-sharp Minor Quartets provide stellar realizations of seminal masterpieces in the composer’s oeuvre. Recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios, the C Major Quartet (10, 16 November 1933) pushes hard at first, the Introduzione and Allegro vivace alternately brooding and breathless, but exuding incisive, even blistering emotional intensity. The wiry, haunted Andante con moto quasi allegretto has Hermann Busch’s pulsating pizzicati under his brother’s thin, nasally piercing and plangent figures. The Menuetto proceeds graciously enough; then, momently, we find ourselves lost in the welter, the throes of the fugal Allegro molto, fiery sparks emitting images of feverish events. Whether it be Adolf Busch’s pointed violin or Paul Doktor’s burnished viola, the fervency of the music barely relents when one or the other player becomes the primal soloist in this exquisitely rushed balance of contentious forces. 

The Op. 131 of Beethoven (2 March 1936) qualifies for the Pantheon of chamber music inscriptions, from the introverted, yearning fugue that opens the work to the “bagpipes” of the mercurially demented Presto, all illumined by the careful musical choreography of the individuals’ parts. The Allegro molto vivace second movement provides more than one moment of fervent emotion, including obsessive figures that remind us of the scherzo from the E-flat, Op. 127.  After a tripping motif and violin cadenza from the brief Allegro moderato, we suddenly enter the rarified world of the Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile. What had occupied at least three 78 sides has been superbly spliced into one fluent experience by the Dutton engineers. Beautiful scales from cellist Hermann Busch while brother Adolf intones and pines near the stratosphere. The music gains a dance character, but infused with emotionally turbulent asides and fughettas that break off, having led us into vaulted labyrinths. More Gothic arches in the penultimate Adagio quasi un poco andante which segues wonderfully into the final Allegro. Responsories from second violin Goesta Andreasson remind us how competent a musician sat next to Adolf Busch. The entire last movement plays as a dress rehearsal for the Grosse Fuge, a St. Vitus Dance out of Ingmar Bergman. Grand music-making in the olden style, superbly preserved by Michael Dutton.

[Interesting to note that almost nothing like this was felt worthwhile to record in the U.S. in the 1930s – we must turn to the Europeans for fine historic classical recordings such as this, just as we have for so many later concert music videos as well as the rare films of the great jazz performers in the Jazz Icons series of DVDs…Ed.]

— Gary Lemco


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