Fritz Busch in Copenhagen = SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “Great” (incomplete); MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 “Italian”; ROSSINI: Overture to Semiramide -Statsradiofoniens Symfoniorkester/ Fritz Busch – Pristine Audio PASC 632 (76:02) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Producer Andrew Rose adds to the legacy of Fritz Busch (1890-1951) with performances recorded in his final season, 1950-1951, with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he had assumed the Principal Conductor position in 1937. The intimate relationship between conductor and his responsive ensemble becomes immediately clear in the opening bars of Schubert’s 1825 “Great” Symphony, which, having been set in the tempo for the Andante – Allegro, ma non troppo – soon achieves a plastic line of spontaneous lyricism. This live performance from 25 January 1951 achieves some colossal momentum, and the orchestral definition has all the luster we might ascribe to Willem Mengelberg, without the rhythmic excesses. Just listen to the Danes’ trombones, given one of the first, rare appearances as a solo in a symphonic score.
The second movement Andante con moto has all the rustic beauty of an Austrian mountain air, even given its martial gait. When the A minor first section transitions into F Major, the moment proves ravishing. The uncredited oboe part completely beguiles us, as do the first trumpet and first horn, who add to the return of the opening melody. The delicacy and transparency of Schubert’s orchestral tissue soon have their foil in the magnitude of the diminished seventh chord that shatters us at the peak of the music’s climax. The pregnant silence which ensues, only grudgingly answered by pizzicato strings, conveys the kind of cosmic drama we associate with a Furtwaengler reading of this score.
The lively, laendler-like Scherzo exudes a healthy vitality, particularly resonant in the strings and woodwinds. Marked Allegro vivace, Busch holds a tight rein until the latter part of the movement’s exposition – given its abridged sonata-form structure – when the kinetic energy threatens to break loose. Is the resounding Trio section a form of Viennese waltz? If so, it extends the musical line with a militant, timpanic beat that adds a broad gesture to the occasion. By the last chord, we are fully prepared for what must have been a thoroughly aroused last movement; but, alas, no surviving source exists for this movement.
The Rossini Overture to Semiramide (1823) from the rehearsal performance 18 January 1951 represents a rarity in the Busch legacy, but nonetheless attests to a fine discipline in execution. The famous horn quartet at the opening sets a noble tone for Rossini’s last treatment of an Italian venue, here based on tragedy by Voltaire. The explosive tuttis and sudden shifts of texture lead, inevitably, to the marvelous, cymbal-toned crescendos that define the Rossini style. The whirlwind velocity Busch exacts from his players the local critics of the time called “incisive and “roguish.” Along with competitive readings from Cantelli and Toscanini, this version by Fritz Busch thunders in the memory long after the final chords from the orchestra.
Mendelssohn’s sunny 1834 “Italian” Symphony in A has a live performance from 14 September 1950. A frequent item in the Busch repertory, the rendition achieves and maintains the vibrancy and festive atmosphere that had so moved the composer during his tenure in Rome, 1830-1831. The opening surge enjoys the same buoyant immediacy we know from comparable readings from Beecham and Toscanini, plenteous in optimism and the joy of life. Even Mendelssohn’s brilliant counterpoints generate a transparent luster that must have ingratiated the Danish audience in attendance.
The second movement, Andante con moto, set in D Minor, originally challenged the composer’s imagination, but he felt Naples would inspire his creative energy for a theme, which comes by way of a pilgrims’ march. The resonance in the Danes’ woodwinds and strings imbues a palpable fervor in the affect, a sense of the composer’s innate pantheism. The third movement, Con modo moderato, in A Major, returns to the bucolic optimism of the first movement, perhaps with more pomp and formal jubilation. Some fine work from the French horns defines this menuet or waltz-like procession. The last movement, the most flamboyant, relies on the Italian tarantella or specifically, the saltarello, for its irresistible propulsion, which asks an already tasked flute to perform even more vehemently. Set in the minor mode of A, we would never guess at any hint of pessimism in this almost breathless perpetuum mobile, whose course Fritz Busch has set and mobilized for maximum effect. The coda, curiously, seduces us into thinking the energy has abated, when the a huge crescendo from the orchestra catapults us far away into Mediterranean skies.
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