In his memoirs, the great violinist (and teacher of violinists) Carl Flesch spoke of Adolf Busch as “above all a character, a personality, with whom purely instrumental considerations are secondary.” Though Flesch was quite aware that Busch lacked the technical “facility” of (say) a Kreisler, he was careful to add that “this very facility easily leads to routine and emotional inertia.” Because of Busch’s forceful “personality” and “strong inner vision,” Flesch—a very tough judge—pronounced him “the greatest purely German violinist of his age, a thoroughly sympathetic figure in every respect.” Everything Flesch finds in Busch’s playing—and more—can be heard in his newly released 1943 performance of the Brahms concerto. The performance isRead more exciting and idiomatic, and far freer from technical problems than the later performance—from 1951, I believe—that was, until recently, available. We are all well acquainted with Busch’s work as a chamber-player, but seldom have the opportunity to hear him as a soloist with orchestra. The disc is filled out by another great Brahms work, the clarinet quintet, with Reginald Kell; the performance, from 1948, is at least a match for the one recorded by Kell and the Busch Quartet in 1937.
-- William H. Youngren [Want List, 2003]
Brahms’s Violin Concerto could have had no more appropriate interpreter in 1943 than Adolf Busch, even though that inheritor of Joachim’s mantle as custodian of the German musical repertoire and tradition, nearing the end of his career and now in the United States, no longer received the high acclaim and attendant opportunities he’d enjoyed in his homeland. In fact, occasional technical lapses and unevenness in awkward passages already indicated, or at least foreshadowed, some decline in his technical grasp. Still, Busch’s clarity in the first movement’s figuration, his commanding lyricism in the slow movement, and his visceral headlong rush through the finale (to which Brahms had appended the phrase ma non troppo vivace after the designation Allegro giocoso) suggest a comprehensive approach to the concerto that combined modern sharpness of focus with Romantic sensibility. This performance differs considerably from the later broadcast from 1951 (Busch’s last public performance, available on Music and Arts CD-861, which also includes, among other things, a dashingly commanding reading of Busoni’s concerto). I experienced the same reaction to that performance as did David K. Nelson in 18:6—its sense of struggle reminded me of Albert Spalding’s reading, from a time when he, too, had passed his prime. By comparison, the 1943 performance fairly crackles (the timings—1943: 18:58, 8:57, 7:07; 1951: 21:24, 9:39, 7:38—give a very abstract clue to the versions’ palpable differences in interpretative urgency). The recorded sound is clear enough in Music and Arts’s premiere release of Busch’s and Steinberg’s collaboration to give some idea of the intensity of Busch’s tone.
Busch had recorded Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in 1937 (available on Pearl GEM 0007), and the live performance from just over a decade later suffers from recorded sound so dry that the instruments never coalesce into a reverberant whole. While this ambiance allows the parts to be heard no matter how turgid the musical texture, something essential to the experience in most concert halls seems painfully lacking. (Tully Potter points out in his notes that members of the actual audience thought that the string sound dominated at times, so the experience in that particular hall may not have been an optimal one to reproduce, anyway.) That’s in no way true of the performance itself. Unlike the Brahms concerto, broadcast from 1948, only five years later, this one displays neither egregious technical insecurity nor noticeably diminished vitality. In fact, the timings for all the movements except for the last are shorter in the later, live, version; and the last movement is longer by only seven seconds! Listeners can either choose between the extra communicativeness of the live performance and the warmer acoustic ambiance of the studio recording, or they can simply acquire both versions.
Yehudi Menuhin chose to study with Busch after having worked with Persinger and Enesco—and having turned down an opportunity, for better or worse, to study with Ysaÿe (simply because the old master had embarrassed the young prodigy by suggesting that he practice scales and arpeggios, or was there more?). The two performances Music and Arts has paired (the concerto appearing for the first time) give a good idea of the far from stolid German tradition in which Menuhin immersed himself, and makes his choice (balancing the influence of the more rhapsodic Enesco) clearly understandable. Recommended.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77by Johannes Brahms Performer:
Adolf Busch (Violin)
New York Philharmonic
Period: Romantic Written: 1878; Austria Date of Recording: 07/18/1943 Venue: Live New York City Notes: Cadenzas: Adolf Busch
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