Reviews

GHCD 2366 – Fritz Busch – Alfvén Mendelssohn Schubert Wagner, 1946 & 1949

Sinfonie-Orchester Winterthur, Fritz Busch – conductor

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Fanfare Magazine March – April 2011

It’s believed that Fritz Busch was invited into the Concert Hall Society studios in 1949 at the instigation of Volkmar Andrae, the Winterthur Municipal Orchestra’s music director. The Winterthur musicians were a competent band, no more, but the conductor does marvels with Mendelssohn’s Fair Melusine. As with Weingartner, there is a sense of building up from rock-steady rhythms, with the ostinato of the main section maintained through pointed phrasing and precision. That doesn’t preclude an element of flexibility, however, most apparent in the increased pace when the second theme unleashes its final, stormy appearance, but it is carefully prepared. Sudden gear switches between sections that feature in some more romantic interpretations are avoided in favor of carefully integrated tempos that never lose their impetus. The result is a reading that seems all the more exciting in the delicacy of its concluding moments than in the earlier, well-delineated fury of Melusine’s wrath. Elegance and balance also characterize the orchestral version of the Octet’s Scherzo, particularly in the way Busch lovingly shapes string phrases. His version is also notable for the single dynamic plane it operates upon, an effect I’m sure was far from being as effortlessly achieved as it sounds.
Busch flew to Los Angeles for the first time in March of 1946, and led three orchestral performances with the Philharmonic. (He would return in 1948 and 1949, conducting opera.) The first half of the third concert was broadcast over NBC as part of The Standard Symphony Hour, named after its sponsor, Standard Oil Company. Granted, the orchestra was going through a rough patch at the time; still, Busch gets a taut reading of the Egmont from them, with fast but sensible pacing in the main section that never loses it impetus in exchange for rhetorical gesture. By way of contrast, when the music requires a persuasive showman, as in the Tristan and Isolde Prelude, Busch supplies all the demonstrative passion one could desire, and an ear for the lyrical, Italianate phrase. Yet control is always there, right down to the slow, pronounced decrescendo of the percussion under the lower strings following the first climax.
Finally, there’s Schubert’s Dance Suite-a typical arrangement by conductors in that period, who sought to rescue lollipops (to use Beecham’s term) they considered too good to leave unknown-includes four of his lesser short pieces: a polonaise, one of the Ecossaisen, a trio, and the 12th of the Valses nobles, D 969. It’s pleasing stuff, more of a miniature suite and tension breaker than anything else, and Busch’s arrangements avoid orchestral anachronisms. The Philharmonic is again extremely responsive to its guest conductor, if without much of the sheen and blend it would acquire later in its history.
The final selection on the album shows Busch back in Scandinavia, where he spent much of his career. Busch first appeared as a conductor in Malmö in 1946, returning in 1948, 1949, and 1951, but the only surviving audio evidence of his time there is this Midsommarvaka from a lunchtime concert in October 30, 1949. It’s a fine performance, despite a less than perfect brass section, with especially good solo winds, and a gloriously sunny strut after the deceptively measured, dynamically scaled-back opening. The reflective central section, all too easily tossed aside in many performances, is just as sensitively limned.
It’s not surprising that the sound quality would differ dramatically on a release taken from at least three different sources. Among the best is the Mendelssohn from the Concert Hall Society’s commercial recordings: reasonably spacious and full-bodied, though restricted in the treble presumably during the remastering process, to avoid hiss. The Alfven is surprisingly good, both closely miked and resonant, though the opening suffers from wow that surprisingly wasn’t corrected, given the state of modern digital technology. The L.A. material has hiss, treble attenuation, and a number of edit. bubbles (such as a few that start at 7:41 into the Prelude and Liebestod) that lead me to think it was made from a second- or third-generation source. Curiously, the Prelude and Interlude from act III of Die Meistersinger is far better than the rest of that broadcast concert, in terms of hiss, frequency response, and warmth. In fact, it furnishes the best sound on the disc. Was it actually from that L.A. broadcast that has otherwise survived in such a poor state, and if so, why does it sound like a recording made on the spot, rather than a studio relay?
Sound questions to one side, this is an excellent album for exposing listeners to the art of Fritz Busch. Although it doesn’t display the structural breadth that was a hallmark of his symphonic recordings, or the wonderful rapport with singers that mark his studio and live operatic issues, the intensity, attention to detail, and expansive spirit are all present in abundant quantities.
Barry Brenesal

MusicWeb International March 2011

Guild’s series devoted to Fritz Busch’s recordings, both studio and live, perhaps inevitably wears a rather lop-sided look. The reason is the scurrying about for off-air broadcast material to supplement the paucity of commercial engagements, a sad indictment of things when it comes to the conductor’s discography. Why didn’t he record more in the studio? It’s a question that, I’m sure, must have occupied admirers of the conductor, who fared much worse, in this respect, than his violinist brother Adolf.
But we must be grateful for what we do have. Take the two Mendelssohn performances, for example, which are the only studio items in this disc. The Overture to The Beautiful Melusine receives a reading of cogency and persuasive drama, whilst the Scherzo from the Octet is a perennial favourite, the performance of which has a vital and generous dynamism, without being at all rushed.
The concert performances come from Los Angeles and Malmö. Busch was in LA in March 1946, and we can hear him in the overture to Egmont, his own arrangement of some Schubert piano pieces, and in two large-scale Wagner works. One can’t help noting once again the somewhat quixotic programming. Egmont starts a bit slowly but gradually increases in tension, turbulence and dynamism, sweeping into the fugal entry points with power. It’s a great pity that the sound is so constricted and that there is so little sense of colour. It devitalises what was clearly a fine reading. The Schubert Dance Suite is pleasant but really of no great historical import. It’s nice to hear one of Busch’s rare arrangements at least. Probably the deft Trio is the pick of the four. The two Wagner extracts remind one as to this conductor’s excellence in this repertoire. There’s surging emotive power in the Tristan episode, but the last chord wavers and the sound is, once again, dull, as it is in the Mastersingers Prelude and Interlude from Act III.
The off-air performance of Alfvén’s Midsommarvaka, the Swedish Rhapsody No.1, op.19, seems to be the only example of Busch’s conducting in Malmö. The performance encapsulates very well the sprightliness and brio of the music, even its more bucolic moments. The spacious central section is well characterised, so too the fulsome drones and folk fiddle evocations of the later pages.
Interpretatively then, Busch directs with flair, and with insight. Sonically things are rather dull, even the Winterthur studio recordings.
Jonathan Wool
Busch directs with flair and insight. Sonically things are rather dull, even the Winterthur studio recordings.

Classical Recordings Quarterly Winter 2010

One of the oddities of the 78rpm era was the relative failure of the recording industry to pay greater attention to Fritz Bunch. Consequently, one is always ready to welcome any of his live performances that can be resurrected for commercial release. And so it is with this one, most of its content drawn from public concerts, the Mendelssohn items comprising the only studio session. That said, what is offered is sonically, at least, a mixed bag.
In many ways the prize here is the gorgeous account of the Mendelssohn overture. I have always admired two radically different accounts of this score from Toscanini (Guild 2358/59) and Schuricht (Decca 475 6074). Bunch’s falls squarely between the two, considerably slower than Toscanini’s, considerably faster than Schuricht’s. This is a perfect mean, and along with a lively Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Octet, it offers some of the finest sound on this disc. At the other sonic extreme are all but one of the performances recorded in concert in Los Angeles: the Egmont Overture, the Dance Suite that Busch arranged from various Schubert pieces and the Tristan excerpts. The Beethoven seems stylish, but the colourless, scratchy source defies accurate appraisal. The Schubert, somewhat better sonically, is a pleasant trifle, but the Tristan is a sonic failure: gritty, occasionally distorted, and severely limited on top. This is all the more unfortunate, for Busch produces a refreshingly fluent, lyrical reading. The Meistersinger excerpt that follows comes as a shock because of sound that seems far ahead of 1946 technology. It certainly preserves the colour, pomp, and splendour of the performance. Finally, the Alfvén Swedish Rhapsody, if comparatively lightweight, is nonetheless charming and projected with lilt and grace by Busch. Here the sound, though not so wide-range as that in the Meistersinger excerpt, is eminently listenable.
One non-musical eccentricity of this release: the insert notes are barely professional. Although the sonic limitations of this release may put off some collectors, it surely is worth acquiring by anybody interested in this often overlooked giant among twentieth-century conductors.
Mortimer H. Frank

MusicWeb International December 2010

The majority of this disk is made up of a broadcast in the Standard Symphony Hour series. It followed two performances of the works, with the exception of the Mastersinger excerpts, in concerts in Los Angeles. The Egmont Overture is fiery and passionate, with a real sense of drama and tension, such as one seldom hears in performances of this piece these days. Busch grabs the music by the scruff of the neck and wrings it of every ounce of passion and tragedy he can find. The Schubert Dance Suite is a four movement work, compiled by Busch, and comprising the Polonaise in F, D599/4, Ecossaisen, D145/1–6, Trio in E (zu betrachten als verlorener Sohn eines Menuetts), D610 and Valses Nobles, D969. Whilst the orchestration is firmly romantic, there are some delightful passages for the Harmonie, a sound which Schubert would have recognised. It makes a nice interlude between the drama of Beethoven and the tragedy of Wagner. The Prelude and Liebestod receives a lovely performance, in which Busch never lets the piece get out of hand and becomes overblown. The music flows perfectly, as the climaxes come and go, the final one being within the scale of the performance, which has been well thought out and executed. The Mastersingers excerpts receive the same treatment, with Busch holding back, slightly, and letting the music progress at its own pace. The ending is suitably triumphant. The applause has been cut from the end of each piece except the Mastersingers and this has led to the acoustic being quickly faded out when the music stops. I would rather we had been able to share the audience’s enthusiasm, for there is much when we can hear it. The sound is somewhat primitive but it’s still clear and once the ears adjust to it, it’s perfectly acceptable.Hugo Alfvén’s Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil) is a lovely piece; totally unpretentious and a perfect example of serious light music. It’s brilliantly orchestrated and the material is approachable and entirely enjoyable. Obviously the musicians in Malmö have this music in their blood and they play it with a real belief and love. This is most enjoyable.The Mendelssohn pieces derive from studio sessions and they have the best sound on the disk. The Beautiful Melusine Overture has a nice, light touch, but the Scherzo feels too heavy-handed.
Overall, a fine disk, and a welcome addition to Guild’s Fritz Busch series, with good transfers and excellent notes.
Bob Briggs
A fine disk

Audiophile Audition October 2010

Busch made his first visit to the Los Angeles Philharmonic on 7-8 March 1946, following two days of rehearsal, and he gleans from the orchestra a fervent response. The Egmont Overture may seem steadfast at first, but it quite assumes a ferocious momentum, proclaiming its cry of freedom with resolute pageantry. More refreshment follows, Busch himself having orchestrated (in 1944) a series of polonaise, ecossaise, menuet, and “noble” waltzes from Schubert’s massive keyboard legacy – a frothy assemblage, eminently Viennese in conception and execution. But the feral passion in Busch’s sense of the Great German Tradition comes to us by way of Wagner, in the form of Wagner’s Tristan Prelude and Liebestod, played with–what one critic of the period, Carl Bronson, called–“such feelings [taken]. . .to heights that were titanic and devastating.” The somber Prelude to Act III from Die Meistersinger imposes a more European sound on the LA Philharmonic, dark in hue and vividly clear in the low voices. The Dance of the Apprentices and Entry of the Masters enjoys a suave transparency, majestic sway and pomp quite apt for the celebration of music itself as a rite of passage.
Busch traveled to Winterthur, Switzerland in September 1949 to record for the Concert Hall Society, likely at the invitation of Volkmar Andreae. The Fair Melusina plays as a water piece whose gorgeous melody keeps ascending and adding various color flourishes. The middle section unleashes a stormy character that Busch keeps intact without sacrificing a steady sense of pulsation. Busch then embarked on a trip to Copenhagen and thence to Malmo–where he had first appeared in 1946–for a luncheon concert 30 October 1949.  Busch held an innate fondness for venues Scandinavian, his often sharing conducting duties in Denmark with Nicolai Malko. The Alfven Midsommarvaka–the Mid-summer Vigil–of 1903 receives a splendidly colorful performance, the ensemble’s having absorbed much of Busch’s own expansive temperament. With Busch, technical proficiency merged with a natural sincerity and affinity with diverse musical styles. Buoyant, athletic, and eminently “rural,” the music swaggers in dance rhythms that trip forever lightly in the heart.
Gary Lemco

Resmusica October 2010

So many labels devote themselves constantly to the republication of always same historical engravings with more or less of happiness in the sound restitution, some make proof of more than imagination. It is the case of Guild Historical whose catalogue currently comprises some 93 albums, and who undertook not only to give in circulation certain recordings studio of Fritz Busch, but also some in its public concerts. In that, Guild contributes substantially to a better comprehension of the art of the German big boss, and to even preserve it of a relative lapse of memory, its “official” discography in studio being rather sparse. 

Fritz Busch (1890-1951) belonged to a family of musicians which includes/understands in particular the remarkable violonist and chambrist Adolf Busch (1891-1952) of which he is the older brother. Fritz, on its side, was made famous while becoming one of the founders of legendary Festival of Glyndebourne and its musical director of 1934 to 1939, and 1950 to 1951, periods lasting which it records with this particularly homogeneous team certain integral operas of Mozart which are as many first to the disc, and which many music lovers always estimate to be the absolute reference: Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Nozze di Figaro, then beginning of the year 50, Die Entführung aus dem Seraglio and Idomeneo, Re di Creta. It is essential thus like one of the purest figures mozartiennes of all times.

It is also Fritz Busch which was selected to direct the memorable concert of December 10, 1950 in Metropolitan Opera House of New York, in celebration of the second birthday of the Universal declaration of the Human rights of the United Nations, with the exceptional participation of the contralto Afro-American Marian Anderson and the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (Guild GHCD2354).

However the lyric work of Mozart was not the only strong point of Fritz Busch, and this disc shows it in a peremptory way: the program suggested is not only more delectable, but is also interpreted in a masterly way, while offering a digest of the international career of the large leader.

The two pages of Mendelssohn show what a musician of the hardening of Fritz Busch could obtain from a label and an orchestra of second plan but which counted excellent musicians: not being more under contract EMI, Busch joined the Concert Society Hall for some engravings studio in September 1949 the Symphony orchestra of Winterthur (then named Stadtorchester Winterthur – Municipal Orchestra of Winterthur), probably under the impulse of legendary the brucknérien Volkmar Andreae. It seems to have been particularly happy of these sessions of recording, and that gets along in these marvellous interpretations mendelssohniennes, all in smoothness and of a refined poetic sensitivity.

To March 1946, Fritz Busch went for the first time to Los Angeles for a series in concerts of which NBC retransmit part of that of March 10. It is this broadcasting which we find here, concerning of works of Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner. The pages of Schubert are particularly invaluable, because they even constitute one of too rare testimonys of the talent of orchestrator of Busch: Polonaise D. 599 n°4; Scottish D. 145 n°1 with 6; Trio (of a presumedly lost Minuet) D. 610; Twelve Noble Waltz D. 969. The concert accepted the sharpest praises of the public and the critic, and that is included/understood when one listens, for example, the Wagnerian orchestral extracts of a seldom equalized sumptuousness and yet of a legibility.
With regard to the Masters Singers of Nuremberg, Guild mentions the Prelude and Interlude of act III. Let us specify that it is about the Prelude of act III, the Dance of the Apprentices and the Procession of the Masters Singers.
One hardly awaited Germanic Fritz Busch in semi-sparkling Rhapsodie Suédoise n°1 “Midsommarvaka” (Night of Midsummer’s Day) of Hugo Alfven, work which made the round the world tour in more or less contestable arrangements of variety: it is to forget the privileged friendly relations which Busch with Sweden maintained (and Denmark). It is thus not astonishing that our chief let himself go to an unslung interpretation, extravertie and absolutely filling with enthusiasm this popular page, while sparing oases of intense poetry in its central part: it is one of the most convincing versions of this picturesque work.

The technical realization of this CD of an major importance and generous knew as well as possible to preserve a maximum of sound characteristics of the original documents, which is worth us a concert of exceptional quality.

Let us announce to finish the exhaustive article on French Wikipédia devoted to Fritz Busch, and point out the preceding discs which are reserved for him at Guild Historical: GHCD2339 (Haydn, Mozart); GHCD2343 (Beethoven); GHCD2352 (Mozart, Schubert); GHCD2354 (Dvořák, Brahms, Chopin, Beethoven); GHCD2356 (Richard Strauss, Mozart).
Michel Tibbaut