November 29, 2015

Adolf Busch's Complete Warner Recordings released in 16-CD boxed set

A treasure trove of chamber music featuring the great German violinist's Busch Quartet and Chamber Players.

Looking back, it seems that the 1930s was the decade when recording came of age; and the firm known as His Master’s Voice, with its ‘dog and trumpet’ trademark, was in the vanguard. Great artists — and Adolf Busch was one of the most remarkable — were at last able to spread their wings in the studio.

Adolf Georg Wilhelm Busch was born in Siegen, Westphalia, on 8 August 1891, the second of five sons of an instrument maker and fiddler. As a teenager he astonished Max Reger, whose new concerto the 17-year-old Busch played from memory to the astonished composer. Until Reger’s death in 1916, Busch was close to the composer, often appearing with him in concert.

From 1921 Busch and the young pianist Rudolf Serkin developed their sonata duo, playing their entire repertoire by heart after 1929; and from 1926 Herman Busch joined them in a trio. During the 1920s Busch consolidated his fame as Europe’s busiest soloist and chamber musician. In 1930 brother Herman replaced Grümmer as cellist of the
Quartet and in 1931 Busch made his American debut as the only violinist to tour with Arturo Toscanini.

But clouds were gathering. In 1927, alarmed at the rise of Nazism, Busch had quit Germany for Switzerland; and in April 1933 he  renounced his native country, in protest against Hitler’s regime,
halving his income and virtually ending his careers as soloist and composer.

HMV’s new German affiliate Electrola was wooing Busch from 1926, and Columbia joined in. HMV won but not until 23 April 1928 were recordings made and, like those from 11 June 1929, they were not published: luckily one side from each session for Bach’s D minor Partita survived, along with one side from a recently discovered Bach Sonata, of which Busch and Serkin had given the modern premiere. On 24 October 1929 this G major Sonata was successfully set down. The D minor Partita soon followed, and in May 1931 the duo started recording in London — their Schubert Fantasy became legendary.

The Busch Quartet began working in Studio 3, Abbey Road, in September 1932 and quickly became adept: to maintain concentration in the great Adagios of Beethoven’s late quartets, Busch often made single takes and repeated them on another day if necessary. Renowned for his ‘long bow’, haunting cantilena and instinctive rhythmic control, he set challengingly slow tempi for these movements and, supported by his colleagues, achieved profoundly spiritual readings. A Brahms quartet and three by Schubert were delivered with rhythmic verve, breadth, power, intensity and — in Schubert’s B flat — vivacity.

Serkin was a tower of strength in Brahms’s Piano Quintet and A major Piano Quartet, and in two E flat trios, Schubert’s late masterpiece and Brahms’s imaginative work, featuring Aubrey Brain’s thrilling playing on a genuine French horn. In Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, Busch and Reginald Kell observed the tradition, sanctioned by the composer, of
starting the Allegro below the basic tempo. The sonata interpretations by Busch and Serkin, the acme of equal balance, togetherness, wit and rhythmic élan, showed the benefits of playing from memory.

We have three precious souvenirs of the post-war Busch Quartet,
by Mendelssohn and Brahms, whose G minor Piano Quartet displays Serkin’s mature artistry. It is frustrating to think that during Adolf Busch’s best decades, whole years were allowed to pass without records being made. But considering the terrible times in which he lived, including two world wars and the turmoil caused by Hitler’s evil reign, what we have is a rich harvest of performances, imbued with the unique spirit of a great German musician and humanist. We are still hearing aspects of Busch today, because he laid down so many of the parameters in the classics, but it is good to refresh our memory of the man himself.

Tully Potter, author of Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician.

The Adolf Busch & Busch Quartet Complete Warner Recordings are available now in a 16-CD boxed set.