Reviews

GHCD 2395 – Adolf Busch, Beethoven 1942 & 49

Adolf Busch (violin), Statsradiofoniens Symfoniorkester, Launy Grondahl (conductor), Wor Radio Orchestra, Alfred Wallenstein (conductor)

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String – January 2014

This previously unpublished performance by Adolf Busch of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto – which Busch performed more than 400 times with such A-list conductors as Toscanini, Mengelberg, Furtwängler, and Bruno Walter – took place in March 1949 in Copenhagen at the Danish Radio. Although it had to be painstakingly patched together from six mono sides, the sound is serviceable and, most important, the cadenzas are complete. As always, Busch combines a respect for line and movement with an understanding that the moments when the soloist risks freely improvising are the moments at which the concerto most fully comes alive. He hesitates just a second during the initial arc of the minor key interlude in the Rondo in a way which suggests it was not something he did every night but reflected something which he heard in the music that night, perhaps for the first time.
That Busch wrote his own cadenzas affirms his respecting Beethoven to the extent that each cadenza becomes an opportunity to relate personally to the composer, not merely a stylistic exercise. His cadenza in the first movement is magnificently angular, spiky, passionate, riveting; the acenza in the third is refreshingly short.
Tully Potter’s liner notes lay out a historical lens through which to understand the full import of Busch’s stature and why so many young violinists today revere his memeory and hope to follow.
Laurence Vittes

Replay – Gramophone – June 2013

Guild’s release of a 1949 Danish radio recording featuring Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Adolf Busch and the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra is of inestimable historical and artistic importance. A few years earlier Busch had set down the work on commercial 78s, a performance which although undeniably memorable doesn’t quite match the vibrancy of this live account. Indeed, there are fragments of the earlier version included in the present production, skilfully edited in by Antony Hodgson at the shellac `turn-over’ points where the original performance was missing (only one recording turntable was available). Hodgson’s work is so expert that in all honesty you would need prior knowledge of the gaps to spot where they’ve been filled in.
The performance promotes a very masculine classical line, expressive but never overcooked, with brilliant cadenzas (Busch’s own), the sort that remind us that this is after all a real concerto, not the ascetically aloof near-relation that some would have you believe it is. Like Huberman with Szell (a conceptually similar reading on Naxos) and Heifetz with Toscanini (RCA), Busch and the excellent Launy Grondahl deliver a first movement that hovers around the 21-minute mark, faster than most for the period and all the more vital for it. The Larghetto is simply glorious, its middle episode as rapt as any on disc. What I love about Busch’s playing is the way he distinguishes between shorter and longer note values; and although one or two passages suggest a master just a little past his prime, the cumulative musical effect is overwhelming.
The disc is completed with American wartime recordings of the two Romances, elegantly played by Busch, though Alfred Wallenstein’s conducting is a mite foursquare. Excellent notes by Busch’s biographer, Tully Potter. A real ‘must-have’.
Rob Cowan’s

International Record Review – March 2013

A few years ago, Tully Potter – the author of the booklet notes with this issue – published a magnificent two-volume, c. 1,500-pages-long biography of the great violinist Adolf Busch (1891-1952), entitled The Life of an Honest Musician. Clearly a formidable undertaking for author (35 years in the research and writing), publisher (Toccata Press) and reader (reading it from start to finish, I managed to average 30 pages a day for two months), the result is a truly outstanding contribution to music biography, enhanced by the insertion, within the end bindings, of two CDs: one of Busch playing, and the other of his compositions.
Having been alerted as a teenager through second-hand 78rpm issues to the consistent quality of the Busch brothers’, performances – Adolf, the conductor Fritz and Cellist Hermann – and having long cherished an LP of a wartime New York account of the Beethoven Concerto by Adolf and Fritz, I was intrigued to receive this CD of a performance by Adolf which was known to be incomplete. The frustration for collectors is that Busch played the Concerto during his career more than any other, yet made just one studio recording of the work, for American Columbia on 78s in 1942, which he did not permit to be released as he felt the balance between soloist and orchestra highlighted him too much (try telling that to many of his successors!).
This performance emanates from Danish State Radio, which recorded it on acetates, but because tape was not available and only one machine was at hand, there were inevitable breaks when the discs were changed. Actually, the breaks entailed only a few missing bars on five occasions; all of the cadenzas were captured complete. What has been done here is that Antony Hodgson has inserted the missing bars from the unissued studio recording, so the work is heard complete. So well has this been done, and the sound matched, that it is not always possible to discern where the breaks occurred, and one can sit back and enjoy this great experience, uninterrupted, for the first time.
This performance is in a class by itself. With such a universal masterpiece as this, we may hear Beethoven’s Concerto played by many different violinists, quite a few of whom appear to have studied the same handful of recordings. Busch plays with consistently rich tone, stylistic purity and great feeling for each phrase and paragraph, always germane to the movement as a whole. He receives fine and more than sympathetic support from both conductor and orchestra; this is a performance in which every musician taking part is agreed upon, being entirely as one with the varying moods of the work which are never allowed to obscure the great structure of this masterpiece. Busch (naturally, for a violinist of his generation) avoids the common tendency of slowing down in the middle of the `Allegro ma non troppo’ which is so often indulged in nowadays by violinists who cannot see the movement as a whole. Busch’s playing in the `Larghetto’ movement is exquisitely reposeful, fully cognisant of the fact that Beethoven here virtually halves the orchestral strength. In the finale Busch manages to achieve a combination of brilliance and refinement that is truly exceptional.
Busch plays his own cadenzas, which might need a little explanation, for they were not the only ones he composed for this work. Those here were written in 1941 and he played them for the first time in the 1942 New York Philharmonic performances. They are superb and certainly deserve wide publication and adoption.
Here, as a totality, is one of the greatest performances of this work ever put on a gramophone record; for myself, on balance, I cannot recall ever having heard a more totally convincing account of the Concerto overall than this.
To complete the disc, we have the two Romances, equally finely played with Alfred Wallenstein (pre-Second World War principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic) an excellent partner.
In normal circumstances, I would nominate this CD in the ‘Outstanding’ category; I hesitate to do so as the recorded sound stems from acetates and matrices between 64 and 70 years old. Whilst no self-respecting collector will regard that as too great a drawback, especially in the light of the previously unavailable performance of the Concerto, it will be a disadvantage to some ears.
Robert Matthew-Walker

Audiophil Audition – 23.02.2013

Violin virtuoso Adolf Busch plays his beloved Beethoven Concerto in a radio broadcast from Copenhagen 1949 that should revitalize this artist’s repute in the work he championed.
Adolf Busch (1891-1952) made only one commercial recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, despite his having given the first London performance of the work in 1912 with Fritz Steinbach and the LSO, a performance that had proclaimed Busch the natural heir to Joachim. Busch continued to perform the Concerto some 400 times in concert with the world’s leading orchestra conductors. Curiously, the February 1942 recording that Busch made – with his brother Fritz and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – he rejected as unsuitable for publication due to faulty balances. In order to supplement the various (five) gaps that existed in the present radio-broadcast performance (17 March 1949), cut on one turntable, record producer Antony Hodgson has inserted selected passages from that very 1942 collaboration in order to render us a seamless whole. The playing, moreover, despite a remark that the Busch disciple Yehudi Menuhin made that Enescu and not Busch communicated the natural ardor for music that Menuhin inherited, this concert performance with Groendahl testifies to a intensely lyrical aristocrat of the violin in Busch, a musician whose power and poetry – admitting only minimal defects in technique – exalt the musical experience to a ravishingly high plane.
Happily, even with the original lacunae in the original recording, the Busch cadenzas – composed around 1941, a year prior to the Columbia inscription that Busch aborted (but released after his death) – were captured intact. The work of conductor Launy Groendahl (1886-1960) with his esteemed Danish State Radio Orchestra proves hearty, muscular, and sensitively wrought, perhaps nowhere finer than in the G Major Larghetto movement, the indicated dolce made dolcissimo. Busch’s long bow strokes articulate a flowing molded line that never breaks, elastic, poignant, and rhythmically flexible. The rasping and icily dry attacks Busch utters for the concluding Rondo: Allegro spice the vast musical repast with a wit and magnanimous pageantry we rarely experience. Listen to the colloquy of Busch and the various horns and winds as they weave out the interior colors of this most delicious of rustic dances! As the music proceeds, the electric tension simply compounds, as beautiful as it is galvanic. Busch inserts another of his stringent, taut cadenzas that ends of wiry trill, and the orchestral slides under it to merge in a variation of the dance that gathers the Olympian momentum that will soon evolve into the Seventh Symphony.
For the two Romances (rec. Newark, New Jersey, 21 February 1942) performed in the midst of having Busch record the Violin Concerto, conductor Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983) leads his WOR Studio Orchestra, the ensemble with which he accompanied the legendary Nadia Reisenberg in a traversal of the complete Mozart Piano Concertos. Imbuing both of these Beethoven lightweight pieces with a stately grandeur, Busch renders them unsentimentally but nobly, the melodic lines plaintive and vocally intoned. That Beethoven can provide a majestic experience may be an intellectual given, but hearing Busch perform these works – the two Romances having already been issued via the Music & Arts label – makes palpable a true merger of composer and spiritually kin interpreter. We can only hope the various world musical archives tender further treasures from the incomparable Adolf Busch.
Gary Lemco