Reviews

GHCD 2352 – Busch – Mozart, Schubert 1949

Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Erich Leinsdorf – Conductor, Arnold Gabor

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American Record Guide Januar/Februar 2011

The Mozart is one of those died-and-gone-to-heaven musical performances: Fritz Busch manages fleet tempos, a firm pulse, and sinuous phrasing that leaves nothing to be desired. The concertmaster, Peter Rybar, contributes extra sweetness and grace. The Schubert, also pleasing, is cast in the same mould – light, swift, and rococo. The recordings were made in 1949 for the short-lived Concert Hall label (red vinyl, as I recall), and the recorded sound is rather boomy – and the microphone is moved about between movements. The infectious music-making, however, transcends it all.
RADCLIFFE

MusicWeb International Friday September 03 2010

For the Busch collector, given the grainy recordings – perfectly serviceable but not quite up to 1949 standard

Guild’s Fritz Busch retrospective reaches the 1949 recordings of Mozart’s Haffner Serenade and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, made in Wintherthur. These are certainly not amongst the most celebrated of his corpus of discs, and nor in truth are they the best recorded, but they do offer valuable perspectives on his music-making in canonic works. Other, smaller pieces were recorded at the same time – by Mendelssohn – but these will appear on a forthcoming disc.
It was Peter Rybar, the orchestra’s leader, who encouraged Busch to make these recordings, though the latter had been performing in Switzerland since at least 1923. They were made for Concert Hall Society. The location turns out to have been the Gottfried Semper Stadthaus, which Rybar remembered as having a splendid acoustic, but which isn’t flattered by the rather rough and ready set-up.
The performances are in the main characteristically robust, direct and honest. Busch’s tempi are usually quite spruce, and his fondness for jettisoning repeats notable. It was his general practice. We can also admire the state of the orchestra – nothing flashy, but good, the bass-up sonorities not too saturated. Indeed the pointing of the bass line in the Haffner’s opening movement is well calibrated, the accents biting tautly, rhythms rugged and yet malleable. Rybar is an elegant soloist when called upon, graceful and not guilty of either over-vibrating or engaging in gauche slides. His articulation in the fourth movement Rondo is pert and incisive, and briskly effective. The Menuetto galante is perhaps rather more of the former than the latter but elsewhere the solid ensemble sound is effective and, when they can, the orchestra’s wind players get to pipe up in the finale.
The Haffner Serenade is followed by Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. The first movement can be quite stern in places, though the answering and tapering string and wind phrases are well attended to and not over-pushed. There’s a certain muscular quality to the music making. The slow movement though is surprisingly relaxed in tempo. The first flute plays well here, and when the music eddies into more expansive and declamatory waters the temperature rises accordingly. The finale is well judged – buoyant and exciting. Of Beecham’s charm – to which not everyone is susceptible – there is not much evidence.
Jürgen Schaarwächter’s notes are very helpful in elucidating the facts regarding the somewhat obscure recording details, and have synthesised recent information very adeptly indeed. There’s a terrific picture of the Stadthaus and pages from Busch’s pocket diary relating to his Swiss visit.

You would need to be a Busch collector to add this to your archive, given the grainy recordings – perfectly serviceable but not quite up to 1949 standard – and the repertoire.
Jonathan Woolf

Classical Record Collector Summer 2010

It might well be argued that among all the conductors who gained major prominence during the first half of the twentieth century, Fritz Busch was the most poorly represented an disc. Of the three Mozart operas he recorded in the 1930s, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte still tower as major phonographic achievements. So, too, would his direction of Le nozze di Figaro had its recording not excluded all recitatives. Certainly the three overtures featured here from those recordings attest to his Mozartian sympathies, as does this account of the Linz Symphony. It is particularly interesting to consider it in the context of Beecham’s long¬admired 1940 version, a model of grace and elegance. By contrast, Busch is intense, festive, and forward pressing and in many ways closer to more modern approaches to Mozart. Yet, although taken of itself it is superb, I wish Guild had drawn upon his HMV remake of 14 years later with the Danish State Radio Orchestra, a tauter, sonically superior reading (a poor 1989 CD transfer from AS Disc did not do justice to the performance).
Both Strauss items are impressive, ranking among the prizes of Busch’s discography. This Don Juan is surely one of the fleetest ever recorded, the only performance I know that is as fast is the
composer’s own. Such later eminences as Toscanini, Furtwängler and Karajan all favoured tempi that ranged from two to three minutes slower. Busch’s Till Eulenspiegel is a controlled romp, boasting horn playing at once virtuosic and witty. Again the pacing, while fleet, remains flexible.
The disc devoted to Schubert and Mozart is less successful. To be sure, both performances are eminently stylish. In each work the orchestra sounds appropriately modest in size, and, with one exception, Busch’s tempos are superbly judged. That exception is the second movement of the Schubert, an Andante con moto, where Busch is slower than Beecham (his Royal Philharmonic account) and Toscanini. Among conductors of the period that I’ve heard, only Bruno Walter favoured a slower tempo than Busch’s. Granted it works at his pace, but the period-instrument movement has suggested that the tempo indication would seem to imply something faster. However, this a minor point. The major problem with this release is sound. In the case of the Mozart, it is exemplified by an unpleasant, edgy string tone that becomes increasingly grating. The Schubert has that flaw to a certain degree as well, but also suffers from a prevailing graininess. Comparison with an original Musical Masterpiece LP edition revealed the same defect, one that quite possibly could not be eliminated. Certainly those interested in Busch should not be put off by this shortcoming. And it should be noted that this release is free of the sharpened pitch that infected part of an earlier Guild/Busch release devoted to Haydn and Mozart. Aside from one detectable side-join in the Linz, the restorations on this Mozart/Strauss disc are state-of-the-art.
Mortimer H. Frank

Audiophile Audition Tuesday April 20 2010

The energetic Fritz Busch enjoys a major addition to his relatively small recorded legacy (originally issued via Concert Hall Society) with these August-September 1949 readings of Mozart and Schubert in the Winterthur venue Busch (1890-1951) had frequented since 1923. Leader Peter Rybar (1913-2002) called Busch “the greatest of all Mozart conductors,” testimony already well certified through the Glyndebourne opera series Busch led in the 1930s. The remasters from Peter Reynolds prove quite convincing and aurally stirring.

Brisk tempos–and no repeats–notwithstanding, the Mozart 1776 eight-movement Haffner Serenade benefits from a clarity and generous pulse that move the music forward in opulent, affectionate terms. At the Andante, Peter Rybar enters with what must serve as a concerto for violin and orchestra, a sweet collaboration that basks in Viennese figures both dulcet and animated. The cadenza alone in the Andante proves worthy of any Mozartean kudos, its haunted improvisatory character equally informed by a driven sense of architecture.  The true concertante nature of the writing comes forth in the familiar Rondo: Allegro (via Fritz Kreisler’s famed transcription), which moves at a thrillingly scintillating pace, the solo and the corps of strings using the tip of the bow to inject a flurry of beneficent irony. Operatic riffs and martial ambitions saturate the Menuetto galante, a lush orchestral court dance redolent with anticipations of Richard Strauss. A fiery melodic Andante ensues with strong colors in the woodwinds and horns. The cross rhythms of the trio section contain enough elements of sturm und drang to inspire a host of more “romantic” composers. The third Menuetto achieves a haughty symphonic girth, well suggestive of the audacious harmonic swagger of the late symphonies. Its middle section boasts a choir of winds that bring celestial comfort. A bit of fulsome repose–in the Adagio–leads to the final Allegro assai whose “Turkish” offbeats and low winds echo with the wicked irreverence of “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” a joyous fructifying Mozart at every turn.

The Schubert B-flat Major Symphony evinces the same happy urgency of expression, no dawdling and no false sentiment. Rather, energy and an elan vital mark the first movement, a classical arch from beginning to end. The core of the symphony, its elegiac Andante con moto receives a limpid molded reading, melancholy and nostalgic, the underlying pulse rather implacable below the sighs and anguish of the chord progressions, many of which adumbrate the chromatics of the Unfinished Symphony. The dark intensity extends to the syncopated Menuetto: Allegro molto, Mozartean and Romantic at once.  The deep colors of the cellos and violas casts a real shadow on the proceedings which the trio section cannot fully alleviate, as Schubert here inspires the rustic pessimism in Mahler. Busch hurtles forward in the finale, the energies accelerated with a tragic abandon we do not often associate with this otherwise lyric moment.  Despite its lack of “trumpets and drums,” the work has evoked a nobly moody grandeur that lingers well after the last chord has dissipated.
Gary Lemco