Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fritz Busch, cond; Winterthur SO;
Los Angeles P;
Malmö Concerthouse Foundation O
GUILD 2366, mono (78:56)
Tristan und Isolde:
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg:
Prelude and act III Interlude.
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
. 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
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 und 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
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
, a trio, and the 12th of the
, 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
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
) that lead me to think it was made from a second- or third-generation source. Curiously, the Prelude and Interlude from act III of
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.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Egmont, Op. 84: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1810; Vienna, Austria
Trio for Piano in E major, D 610 by Franz Schubert
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Notes: Arrangement: Fritz Busch (1944)
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