Fritz Busch in Vienna – Beethoven and Haydn – Pristine Audio

by | Dec 31, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; HAYDN: Symphony No. 101 in D Major “Clock” – Niederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester (Beethoven and Haydn)/ Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven Op. 92)/ Fritz Busch – Pristine Audio PASC 614 (2 CDs) 70:42; 63:42 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

The recorded legacy of German conductor Fritz Busch (1890-1951) receives the benefit of producer Andrew Rose, who reissues 1950 performances that originally appeared on Donald Gabor’s Remington label. Gabor, a native Hungarian who had worked with Columbia Records, initiated his own label in the 1940s, attracting European musicians like Busch, although the lawyer-impresario Marcel Prawy (1911-2003) had owned the rights to those performances led in Vienna. Once such material came to Gabor, he issued his records at a price virtually one-third that of the main-stream labels, making classical music available to a public eager for quality performance, even if the inexpensive vinylite of Remington did not always preserve the works in good sound. Pristine has neutralized the sonics issue for this fine release, “Busch in Vienna.”

Opening the present Pristine set, enhanced by the XR remastering process, we have a thoroughly thrilling, engrossing performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (16-20 October 1950), led in a style competitive with the best of Toscanini. At the time of its release on Lp, a contemporary critic observed that “Busch has the best balance [among selected competitors], but the exuberant treble of his violins cannot be subdued on all apparatuses.” From the opening chords to the bristling finale, this reading proves refreshed and exhilarating, dramatic, lyrical, and emblematic of a conductor long versed in the Beethoven tradition. 

The Beethoven Eighth Symphony (25 October 1950) elicits immediate, superlative praise from a contemporary reviewer, who calls it “the most reflective and tempered perusal of the Eighth. . .the most incisive direction, the cleanest response, and, after Muench, the greatest impression of orchestral weight. The treble on the amplifier needs careful adjustment to discipline the violins on this disc.” Again, the very outset of this buoyant work, Allegro vivace e con brio, we confront an energetic propulsion leavened by Homeric humor, mostly found in the bassoon. Our amplifiers now duly contain the various, colorful energies – courtesy of Andre Rose – and visceral stretti that suffuse this exercise in economical drama whose first and last measures turn out to be the same. Eschewing anything that sinks from gravity, Beethoven proceeds with interior movements equally light, even mocking, especially in his impish caricature, Allegretto scherzando, of Johann Nepomuk Maelzel’s recent invention of the metronome. Beethoven’s irony then turns to his Classical roots, Tempo di Menuetto, where the superficial trappings of the courtly dance fall prey to errant downbeats and sulfuric grumblings in the bass of the Trio. The finale, Allegro vivace, brings by way of the rondo form a display of varied dynamics and instrumental groupings that never ceases to charm us and compel us to admit the sheer fluency on all accounts, those of the creator and interpreter.

The Busch Beethoven Seventh (15 October 1950), which derives from a live broadcast performance, opens with a truly declamatory series of progressions, Poco sostenuto, before the flute and trilled strings prepare us for the spirited and aerial Vivace that rushes to embrace all rhythmical space. Propulsion and clarity of line merge beautifully, much in the Toscanini tradition, but graced by a sweetness in the lyrical episodes that belong to Busch singularly. The songful, dignified Busch rendering of the Allegretto movement confirms the estimation of this music as “the most tragic moment in Beethoven.” The tympani part alone warrants the price of admission. Alertly playful and yet driven by a predetermined, dramatic flux, the last two movements resonate with molded energy, particularly the Presto’s “Trio” section.  The elastic attack to begin the manic and gloriously confident Allegro con bio finale made me repeat it. 

The death of Fritz Busch motivated Remington to issue a memorial set, Masterseal MW 39, Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 and the Beethoven Symphony No. 8. The Haydn also appeared in 10” format on vinyl disc R-149-31, which received from critic Cecil Smith – in the New Republic 23 April 1951 – the praise of its being “the best orchestral performance in the group I listened to. . .The Clock [is] conducted with taste by Fritz Busch, played expertly by the Austrian Symphony Orchestra, and cleanly and brightly recorded.” Need I say more?

–Gary Lemco

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