Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 3,
Le Nozze di Figaro:
K 602, K 605
Fritz Busch, cond;
Württemberg Land-Theater O;
GUILD 2371 (77:01) Live:
This famous performance of the Brahms, showcasing the prewar Dresden Staatskapelle on an outing to the German capital, has appeared on other labels, notably Profil and Tahra (the latter attributing a different date in 1931, but obviously the same performance, though with a substitution of the beginning from Fritz Busch’s 1947 Copenhagen studio recording). Previous transfers have derived from four single-sided 40-cm. 33-rpm discs housed in the archives of German Radio; the Guild CD has used a new source (tape) including audience applause and broadcast commentary missing from the disc copies. The sound is noisier than before but with more presence, which is very much to be welcomed (the Profil in particular was very dim).
Sonic quality might initially be a little challenging, but such is the magnetism of the performance, with a heady sense of inspiration caught on the wing, that the ear adjusts surprisingly quickly. Busch’s conducting is lean and swift, in the vein of Toscanini and Weingartner, but freer than either, with something of Furtwängler’s improvisational spirit. The Dresden orchestra is quite wonderful, playing with enormous character, and tight discipline as well as a chamber-like give and take. The first movement is finely drawn, with an airy lift to the phrasing, purged of any hint of heaviness—as a telling example, at Rehearsal E (the dotted-rhythm figure in leaping octaves), where nearly all conductors take Brahms’s indication
as an injunction to broaden the tempo, Busch interprets the “quasi” to imply a
of slowing down without actually doing it. The development really lights a fire and the coda packs an unaccustomed punch, Busch relishing the pungent accents often lost in the nostalgic haze evoked by other conductors. The Adagio combines classical clarity and focus with a remarkable plasticity of phrasing (listen to those singing contrapuntal lines in the bridge, Rehearsal A ff). The Allegretto grazioso really dances (delicious pointing of the triplet figure at bar 4), and the Presto episodes take off with an exuberant
In the bittersweet turn to minor at the end, the violins surprise with a liberal dose of Old World sliding between notes, which is otherwise little in evidence. The finale goes with tremendous swashbuckling élan, and an amazing combination of flexibility and precision at high speed. At a basic tempo this fast (at 7:40, certainly one of the fastest ever), Busch can achieve a feeling of stretto in the coda without resorting to the customary accelerando. The new source’s inclusion of the audience’s wild cheering at the end vividly attests to the Berliners’ rapturous reception of Busch before politics changed everything—although not Jewish, Busch was an outspoken anti-Nazi, and in 1933 left Germany for good after being forced out of his position in Dresden.
The 1919 Stuttgart sessions are of enormous historic interest as Busch’s first recordings. The “Eroica” Scherzo is fast and furious, scrappy but exciting. The Reger excerpts (consisting of the theme and three of the eight variations) are idiomatic and intensely characterful, if rather untidy (they must have posed quite a challenge for the acoustic recording process!).
scorches past at 3:36, and the German Dances are rough, rustic (hear that tuba on the bass line!), and very scrappily played—no comparison with his splendid performances of the same repertoire from Copenhagen 30 years later, vital, delectably pointed, and colorful.
Guild Historical’s track record has been a mixed one, bewilderingly inconsistent even within this Busch series. This disc is a winner, though—one of the most important historic releases to come my way for quite a while, and urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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