GHCD 2343 – Fritz Busch (1890-1951) – Beethoven Symphony No. 9

Kerstin Lindberg-Torlind – soprano, Else Jena – mezzo soprano, Eric Sjöberg – tenor, Holger Byrding – bass, Danish Radio Chorus, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Busch – conductor

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MusicWeb International Friday March 13 2009

This is the only complete surviving document of Fritz Busch’s Ninth. Busch, who in 1922 had been appointed Generalmusikdirektor of Dresden State Opera, was dismissed from that post in March 1933 due to Nazi power. In June, Busch left Germany, only returning at the very end of his life. Soon after his departure from Germany he became affiliated with Glyndebourne; he was its first music director from 1934.

The sound is clear and has fair body, with only mild muddying in the lower mid to bass ranges. Most impressive of all is Busch’s structural grasp. He holds the arrival points clearly in mind, and yet never undermines the emotional importance of surface detail. His moulding of crescendi is expertly managed. It is almost as if Busch can maintain Toscanini’s fiery surface motion while keeping some of Furtwängler’s famous long-range thought. Could Busch have been the missing link between the two, the so-called Toscwängler – a horrible name, I know, but Furtanini sounds even worse?

The second movement Molto vivace is not as tidy of ensemble as the first movement, but this is a sprightly performance. Busch sets a challengingly rapid pace, and at times one can sense the Danish players struggling to keep to the tactus. Timpani solos are incisive, though. It is the Adagio molto e cantabile that is richest in dividends. The opening is serenely gentle and it is here that we really feel the superiority of Guild’s transfer, Remastering is courtesy of Peter Reynolds.

The opening of the finale laudably avoids distortion but inevitably perhaps lacks the visceral edge of more modern recordings. The tutti sounds a little blunted. No mistaking the Toscanini-like headlong dash around 5:50. Holder Byrding has to use all of his persuasive powers to get the idea of “other” sounds (joy) across. The recording clearly favours the choral tenors. Eric Sjöberg, the solo tenor, is enthusiastic in his solo leading into the concentrated fugue – wherein Busch generates tension aplenty. There is a ragged, half-hearted choral entry at around 17:30. All is forgotten and forgiven when we get to the magical passage for all four soloists around 21 minutes in. Rarely – if ever – have I heard a quartet of soloists that works so well together and is so perfectly in balance, with all four egos held on a strong leash. Worth it for those moments alone, really; a more long-sighted critical appraisal simply reinforces the strength and integrity of this account of the Ninth.

The Leonore Overture is superbly paced. The strings, in particular impress, especially in the lead-in to the main, fast, body of the overture. Lower strings move adeptly at speed. The solo trumpet fanfares do sound rather brass-bandish, but the drama remains intact, and actually ignites in the tempestuous coda. This Leonore seems to have previously only been issued on LP on Denmark’s POKO Records label (PLP8401/3) and is therefore a greater rarity than the Ninth which was previously on multiple labels, including Heliodor and Melodiya (!) on LP and Urania on CD. The present CD was issued in conjunction with two other Ninths (Toscanini/Colón 1941 and Furtwängler/Berlin March 1942). Jonathan Woolf gives a typically perceptive review comparing and contrasting all three here on MusicWeb. This Busch Ninth stands magnificently on its own merits, though, despite the occasional caveat.
Colin Clarke

BBC Music Magazine February 2009

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, issued separately but with comparative notes, would make absorbing and often intensely moving long-term listening, as one went from one to another. The most recent of them is nearly 60 years old, so tolerance is needed, though the sound is remarkably smooth. Too smooth, in fact: Guild has done a thorough job of de-clicking, and so on, as well as adding appreciable amounts of echo. The presentation, though is slapdash: each issue is alleged to contain a performance of Leonore Overture III by the Same conductor, but in fact the Busch disc has Leonore II; and an disc two of the Furtwängler issue there are supposed to be

two Moments fror Schuberts Rosamunde, but in fact we get one and then the Overture to a Comic Opera by the Argentinian Jose Maria Castro, not a deathless masterpiece and only performed because Furtwängler was in Buenos Aires. Those important sloppinesses apart, the Sound is good enough for anyone not brainwashed by recent technology to recognise that these are performances of a kind one would be unlikely, and lucky, to come across in a concert now. Toscanini’s account, perhaps the finest of his that survives, with the Teatro Colón Orchestra in 1941, is intense without being hard-driven in the way that he often was. Tempos are an the whole rapid, but there are moments of relaxation and of almost static ecstasy, and to listen to it is still to be shaken by its integrity. The Busch performance, from 1950, though remarkable given that it was virtually unrehearsed, is in muck betten Sound, but probes the work less deeply, and is, in the light of one’s expectations of this great conductor, a bit disappointing. The Furtwängler performance, from Berlin in Manch 1942, is incandescent from First note to last, and indeed one of the most astonishing performances that even he gave of this, or any other, work. The first movement is almost unbearable in its raging fury, the second a nearly insane dance, while the third brings time to a stop. The last movement is less of a Hymn to Joy than a Hymn to the hope that joy 1might return. Musical experiences of this degree of greatness only come a few timen in a lifetime.
Michael Tannen