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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

  • Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 77
  • Concerto for Violin & Cello "Double" in A minor, Op. 102 *
Adolf Busch, violin
* Hermann Busch, cello
* National Radio Orchestra of France/Paul Kletzki
Basel Orchestra/Hans Munch
Guild Historical GHCD2418 69:12
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The teacher of Adolf Busch's teacher was none other than Joseph Joachim. Whether or not this constitutes an authentic performance tradition is entirely up to you, but there's no denying Busch's mastery of both works. Nor can you deny that Guild has done outstanding work with the sound. Where previous reviews of the Op. 77 performance complained of serious sonic concerns, the December 18, 1951 broadcast is heard here to excellent effect.

By 1951, Busch was in very poor spirits and even poorer health. This was his final performance before a series of heart attacks led to his death in mid-1952. While there are certainly signs that his technique had diminished, there is equal evidence of the violinist's total command and emotional grasp of the music. Despite some questionable intonation here and there, the tone remains sweet and secure. Busch also has the advantage of better-than-expected orchestral support from the Basel Orchestra under Hans Munch. A cousin of Charles Munch, the two shared an affinity for Brahms and an amicable manner of accompaniment. Previous reviews had complained of dropout in the slow movement, but Guild has apparently corrected this. Good thing, too. The nobility of expression is never in doubt, even if the violinist occasionally struggles to stay in tune. When he's on, the high notes are irresistible. When he's off, the results are clearly lacking. That said, it is a uniquely compelling performance that ever violinist should here. In the Finale, Busch dances more freely than Fritz Kreisler in either of his excellent readings, and the technical imperfections do not detract from the joy or propulsive momentum that soloist and orchestra both provide.

The "Double" Concerto rarely pleases me to the same extent that the Violin Concerto does, but there is no denying the appeal of this heartfelt family affair. Neither soloist strikes me as ideal, and the 1949 sound is markedly inferior to that of the 1951 recording that closes the disc. That said, Paul Kletzki provides fine support, and the French Radio forces play quite well. Really, I find the solo concerto to be the real reason to acquire this disc, but the filler is another worthy reminder of the musical gifts of the Busch family. Guild has not been as active with its historical issues lately, but this 2015 disc is a treasure for those with even a passing interest in Brahms.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet