Dutton CDBP 9765, 69:32 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ***:
Ordinarily, I would never assign fewer than four stars to any reissue of the work of Adolf Busch (1891-1952) and his string quartet, which began recording for EMI in 1932. The F Minor “Il Serioso” inscription dates from the ensemble’s early sessions, but it suffers such persistent surface noise – a metallic swish – it proved hard for me to enjoy the sterling, driven performance on an audiophile level. The two quartets inscribed in mid-November 1933 fare much better on the strictly aural criterion.
Busch’s concertante acumen, his use of the long bow application of spiccato and bowed staccato, the always thrilling intensity of his arioso passages, all mark a great, individual style. We can enjoy Busch’s literally bravura deportment in the Vivace movement of the F Major Quartet, Op. 135. No less is his driving enthusiasm present for the jaunty opening to Op. 18, No. 1, a piece one senses is already testing the Classical envelope. Occasionally, a wisp of an older, more Romantic sensibility creeps into an otherwise sec, detached sensibility, as in the Lento assai of that same Op. 135 String Quartet. But even the infrequent touch of Romanticism cannot detract from the innate musical poise of the conception. I realize in listening to the Lento movement how much the next generation, say, the Koeckert Quartet, learned from Busch. Karl Doktor’s viola and Paul Grummer’s cello make their share of points, and the interior lines of any Busch Quartet performance were models of their kind. That Beethoven can still dance and sing in the midst of apparent profundity testifies to the delightful musicality the Busch players could imbue in their selected repertory, along with their vast experience. The Op. 18 quartet bears repeated hearings with an indestructible ardor. Recommended malgre lui.
— Gary Lemco