GHCD 2371 – Fritz Busch – 1919?, 1931, 1948-51

Orchester des Württembergischen Landes-Theaters, Fritz Busch (conductor)

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MusicWeb International August 2011

Guild has been reissuing live and studio recordings made by Fritz Busch at a welcome rate. With this one they reach right back to the conductor’s first forays into the recording studios. I wasn’t at all au fait with the c.1919 series of discs made with the Orchestra of the State Theatre, Stuttgart – or what was then the Orchester des Württembergischen Landes-Theaters.
They are the usual kind of thing; extracts from major symphonic repertoire – in this case the scherzo from Beethoven’s Eroica – and a series of Mozart’s German Dances, followed by a filleted version of Reger’s Mozart variations. Regrettably, Guild doesn’t provide either matrix or issue numbers – a bit of a blot, though they are unfortunately hardly alone in this respect these days.
The recording is invariably boxy and there are the expected battalions of lower brass reinforcements to cover for the string basses, which didn’t record well and were too far from the acoustic horn – I should have mentioned that these are all acoustic discs. Still, it’s good to hear this body of musicians, one that doesn’t sound too weedy in number, and enjoys corporate sonority; there’s amplitude in the violins, for instance, confidence in phrasing too, even though this was probably their first experience of recording at all. Conductor and players certainly dig into a Busch speciality, the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, though there’s a disparity between the dynamism of the upper string voices and the brass reinforcements retarding the rhythm. This brass-heavy quality afflicts the Mozart Dances the most. The ‘bonus’ features include two sets of Dances recorded in 1948 and 1951 in Copenhagen, and provide a sense of continuity as well as being interesting to hear.
In the Reger we hear the Theme itself, phrased very tenderly, and then variations 1, 6 and 7, enough to be aware of Busch’s obvious sympathy for the idiom and his sensitively moulded concern for phrasing and especially dynamics – the clarinets and harp are happily audible, doubtless due to placement near the horn, but also because of Busch’s ear for balance. In the summer of 1919 Busch had become chairman of the Max Reger Society, a position he held until 1930. Both he and his brother Adolf were fervent promoters of the composer’s music.
The most important music here, however, is one of the very first preserved German orchestral radio recordings. It was made in Berlin on 25 February 1931. Busch directs the Dresden State Orchestra in Brahms’s Second Symphony. Two different recordings seem to have been in existence of this performance. This one has come down on tape, presumably dubbed from a disc original. Hänssler Profil has already released its version, which is without applause and broadcast commentary – both of which Guild includes. There is quite a lot of swish in this rare survivor and constricted sound, and hum, with one or two dropouts too. That said, whilst it would be trying for a general listen, for those interested in Busch it’s clearly a must to hear his volatile phrasing, and his powerful conception going at full tilt in this concert.
It completes a necessarily specialised programme of broadcasts and acoustic recordings, with those Copenhagen recordings added to bring the total timing almost to the maximum. Good notes complete the package.
Jonathan Woolf
A necessarily specialised programme of broadcasts and acoustic recordings.

Audiophile Audition June 02 2011

Editor and producer Peter Reynolds has resuscitated the earliest surviving recordings of conductor Fritz Busch (1890-1951), his acoustic inscriptions of Beethoven, Mozart, and Reger from Stuttgart, 1919. We have, moreover, a complete radio transmission of the Brahms Symphony No. 2 guest-appearance at the Berlin Philharmonic from 25 February 1931, a performance of luminous intensity made with the obvious invitation of the orchestra’s main conductor, Wilhelm Furtwaengler. The six dances by Mozart from Denmark, recorded 10 October 1948 and 27 January 1951, appear as bonus tracks.
Generally, Fritz Busch maintained what some critics called “a pure style,” eschewing the romantic excesses of portamento and rhetorical slides in phrasing, but they do raise their specters occasionally in the Mozart German Dances, K. 600 and K. 605. The Eroica movement exudes good energy but does not impress us with the same level of virtuosity as the truly hectic rendition of Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro. Reger plays an important role in the Busch legacy–as the composer also influenced the slightly older colleague Carl Schuricht–and though the Theme, Variation I, VI, and VII carry the initial tune from Mozart’s A Major Sonata, K. 331 clearly, the presence of old-fashioned glissandi, even slithers, in the melodic line seem palpable declarations of a progressively waning aesthetic.
Despite some intrusive swish at the opening of the Brahms Symphony in D Major, the orchestral definition in the upper strings, their collective warmth and hearty stride, instantly captivate our imagination. The woodwinds, too, retain a flighty airiness and playful virtuosity that avoid any of the morbid quality we can hear in some Brahms acolytes. The woodwind work in the early third of the Adagio conveys a grand leisure, an open-air quality we recall from the Serenade in D, Op. 11. The later pages of the Adagio reveal a combination of energy and sculpted beauty. Recorded two years prior to Busch’s flight from Nazi-controlled Germany, the music ushers in a host of visions of a pre-Lapsarian world that had basked in spiritual comfort and confidence. We might speculate that besides revealing influences from mentors Schillings, Weingartner, and Furtwaengler, the relatively recent (1930) appearances in Germany of Arturo Toscanini–with his own debts to the Brahms of Fritz Steinbach–exert their own energies in the Busch rendering of long phrases and swooping singing lines. Contemporary critics exhorted the middle movements of the Brahms under Busch as exemplary, particularly the diaphanously Mendelsssohn-like Allegretto, which one critic wished could have been repeated. The athletically frenetic approach to the last movement has to raise one eyebrows and ears to the fiery discipline Busch could evince from his inspired players. Audible cries of “Bravo!” and “Come again!” resound from the audience, but Fritz Busch never returned to Berlin after 1932.
Delicacy and architectural balance define the two sets of German Dances by Mozart from Copenhagen in 1948 and 1951.The orchestral rendering of what we know as “Non piu andrai” from Le Nozze di Figaro delights, while the last Contredanse carries a Renaissance sonority that fuses the old and the new in perfect harmony. Even in these pert concentrated dance efforts the resonant wit and sensuous texture of the music receives full due, marvelous encores from a veteran practitioner of his craft.
Gary Lemco