GHCD 2354 – Fritz Busch (1890-1951), Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms – 1950

Marian Anderson – contralto, Male Chorus of the Schola Cantorum/Hugh Ross, New York Philharminic-Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Busch

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Fanfare Magazine November / Dezember 2010

The information given above is mine, not Guild’s; nowhere, outside or inside, do they state that most of the finale of the Beethoven is missing! (Bars 63-271, to be precise, presumably as the result of some criminally careless editing somewhere down the line.) I see there’s an alternative transfer available on Urania; I don’t know it, and am now curious to know if it’s similarly disfigured-if any reader can tell me, I’d be grateful.
If this is the best one can do in the Beethoven, I’d be inclined to reluctantly recommend it anyway, since it is (so far as I know) the only extant Busch performance of the symphony (from a concert at the Metropolitan Opera), and it’s a great one, brimming with character, yet totally unmannered. I have my doubts, though; from past experience, Guild’s track record is wildly inconsistent, and the transfers here are very poor-sounding, muddy and excessively filtered. As for the rest of the New York concert, the Chopin concerto is available in far superior sound on Music & Arts. Marian Anderson sings the Alto Rhapsody with her usual incomparable warmth, breadth, and fullness, a wonderful supplement to her studio recording with Refiner. The filler, Dvorak’s Carnival from Edinburgh in the same year, has great fire, Schwung, and open-hearted lyricism.
Boyd Pomeroy

MusicWeb International Friday January 22 2010

A well compiled programme devoted to a conductor of high moral and musical qualities 

None of these performances is making a ‘first release’ appearance but all are welcome nonetheless in Guild’s well upholstered transfers, and with typically useful notes. There is one intact concert here – the Human Rights Day concert given in November 1950 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Then, from slightly earlier in the year, there is the only surviving document of Busch’s work at the Edinburgh International Festival, in the shape of Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. This was something of a favourite of his, and he had in fact recorded it much earlier in 1933. The performance has been reissued several times by Danacord. The tempo is almost identical and whilst he was never quite as fast as Reiner, say, in this spirited work, he always brought to it a fiery intensity. The opening chords tend to splinter in the 1950 off-air recording. But we can still admire the vigorous and rhythmically persuasive way Busch drives through the music, vesting it with carnal life and lissom verdancy. It makes one wonder, afresh, at Busch’s otherwise scanty interest in the composer’s music. The Edinburgh performance once appeared on JS Editions 07159.

Talking of which, Marian Anderson’s performance of the Alto Rhapsody was issued on JS Editions 07209, on Discocorp, the NYPS Society (on LP) in 1987, and privately from Indiana University. There are several inscriptions of her noble way with this work, and there is indeed Busch’s own with Ferrier and the Danish Radio Orchestra from 1949 [DACOCD301]. Well recorded at the Met with Anderson’s voice characterfully forward, this yields to none of these competing versions in directness and gravity. Arrau’s Chopin Concerto has also done the rounds over the years: the Indiana private release noted above, a Bruno Walter Society LP, Urania 22.145 and it’s also to be found housed in an unwieldy 20 CD box from Habana/JBM – as well as more congenially on a single CD on Music & Arts 1158. It’s a strong, sinewy reading, with an unshrinking violet approach all round. The slow movement doesn’t aim at delicate refinement and there’s some skittish, and authoritative playing in the finale.

Finally we have Beethoven’s Fifth; see also its appearance on the Indiana release, a Discocorp LP, and Urania 22.159. This receives a fleet, rugged and essentially Toscanini-like performance which reveals Busch’s hallmarks as a Beethovenian of distinction – as the other few surviving examples of his work amply demonstrate. One thing will perplex listeners however. There’s a swingeing cut in the finale. It doesn’t sound like tape loss because the rest of the concert is in decent sound and suffers no such problem. Might it have been for broadcast reasons – to keep the programme within a certain allotted time span? That seems more likely but I’m still somewhat surprised at Busch proving so amenable.

In short then this is a well compiled programme devoted to a conductor of high moral and musical qualities.
Jonathan Woolf

Audiophile Audition June 19, 2009

The “essential” Fritz Busch emerges in Beethoven’s resounding Fifth Symphony, a colossus of a rendition on a par with the best of Erich Kleiber. 

For those devoted to the often superlative musicianship of Fritz Busch (1890-1951), Guild restores the Metropolitan Opera House concert of 10 December 1950, given for Human Rights Day Declaration for the United Nations, which featured speakers Charles Boyer and Judith Anderson. The two missing pieces by Busch are David Diamond’s Centennial Fanfare for brass and percussion, and the Benvenuto Cellini Overture of Berlioz. Sir Ernest Macmillan led five excerpts from Messiah (with baritone John Brownlee), but they, too, seem not to have survived the recording process.

The disc opens with the only surviving document from Fritz Busch’s appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, the 26 August 1950 rendition of the Carnival Overture of Dvorak, a furious affair, fast, powerful, uncompromising. After a shattering of the opening chords, the sound textures settle down enough so we can savor the colors Dvorak presents in the second of his “Nature, Life, and Love” sequence of symphonic poems.

Marian Anderson (1897-1993) is in virile–dare I say “masculine”–form for the Alto Rhapsody of Brahms, a brooding, haunted performance. The Male Chorus of the Scola Cantorum appears via Hugh Ross. The pace is quick, in the Toscanini mode, but Anderson’s diction and vocal projection equal or surpass her various, inscribed performances with Monteux, Ormandy, and Reiner. Busch himself had performed the piece with Kathleen Ferrier from Copenhagen in 1949, and that inscription may still be the preferred version.

Enter Chilean great Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) for the Chopin concerto, a soloist not always to Busch’s taste, as Arrau left Nazi Germany late in the regime, 1940, while Busch had left at its outset, in 1933. Despite the temperamental vagaries of the collaboration, the performance bristles with muscular excitement and purposeful direction, Arrau’s long lines, his clean balances of poetry and power masterfully executed. The orchestral tuttis themselves become quite explosive, demand for Polish liberation without a word of patriotic rhetoric. After a thoroughly lyrico-dramatic Larghetto, a resolute Allegro rondo concludes, perhaps a bit too serious for some auditors. But none can deny the digital, pearly proficiency at work at the keyboard, nor the firm conviction in the orchestral tissue. The furious applause has opened well before the last notes have decayed.

The “essential” Fritz Busch emerges in Beethoven’s resounding Fifth Symphony, a colossus of a rendition on a par with the best of another demonic German, Erich Kleiber. This survives as his only inscription of the work. Driven with an ineluctable fury and girth–but no less sensitivity in the relatively quiet passages–the performance will doubtless warrant comparison with Toscanini’s various readings. But I would venture to look to the contemporary reading of this vital symphony that the Philharmonic made with Vittorio de Sabata (1892-1967) for anything like the kinetic will-power inherent in this crushing, heroic interpretation.  Highly recommended!
Gary Lemco

Classical Record Collector Spring 2010

The first fitem here (Dvorák’s Carnival) Buffers from poor Sound quality – a lack of upper frequencies make it something of a trial for the listener. This is the only surviving example of Busch at the Edinburgh Festival, yet sadly the muddy Overall texture makes fit difficult to judge the performance in detail, although Busch’s tempos are ideal.
Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody is very movingly sung by Marian Anderson – she made two commercial RCA recordings, so her Interpretation is relatively familiar – nonetheless, she delivers a deeply impressive performance which sonically is tolerable, with her voice sounding much clearer than one might have expected. The Chorus is quite magnificent.
The opening ritornello in Chopin’s E minor Concerto is cut, as was often the custom in those days; Arrau’s playing has that almost tangible elegance and poise which always showed this master pianist at his best. He is partnered by a truly excellent orchestral contribution, but the performance does suffer from constricted sound. The second movement follows here after just four seconds, and this is surely a musical error which could have been rectified. The tempo for the finale is quite wonderfully judged, and overall this has to be counted amongst this great artist’s finest `captured’ performances, despite the sonic shortcomings.
It is extremely valuable to have Busch in Beethoven’s Fifth, as he left no commercial discs of this work. There is no doubt, as we encounter a conductor who holds everything together with a musical-intellectual grip of considerable stature, that this is a great performance. Busch also makes the first movement repeat, which is a considerable interpretative bonus. Audience noises and the general constricted sound tell against it, but the power and impact of this account place it on a level with Busch’s magnificent Eroica from Vienna in the same year.
Robert Matthew-Walker