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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



J. S. BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto BWV 1042
Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043
Violin Concerto BWV 1041
Piano Concerto No 1 BWV 1052
Adolf Busch, violin and director
Eugene Istomin, piano
Frances Magnes, violin
Busch Chamber Players
Recorded New York 1942-1945
PEARL GEMM CD 9298 [72.47]


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But for one important reservation this is a remarkable collection. Recorded in New York these 1940s performances never received proper currency in Britain and the various reissues over the years have never really done justice to Busch’s American years. Allied to this we can hear a live 1943 performance of the A minor concerto – preserved by Busch’s widow on acetates – and the young Eugene Istomin’s firm-jawed traversal of the D minor Piano Concerto.

The E major Concerto is a paradigm of Busch’s style. There are heavy bass accents in a resonant acoustic (with some overloading to the sound) but we can easily appreciate his expressively heightened playing at 5.04 in the first movement and also the lack of Brucknerian-sized luftpausen at 3.30 in the second – in contradistinction to so many of his contemporaries and older players. For once, therefore, the movement emerges in proper proportion, its architectural integrity honoured. His slides here are precise and appositely tasteful. The continuo player, by the way, is Artur Balsam and as he’s as distantly recorded as is Mieczyslaw Horszowski in his similar role in the Busch recordings of Handel’s Concerto Grossi - I assume that Busch preferred it that way. The Double Concerto faced stiff competition at the time of its 1945 release; memories of Szigeti/Flesch, Menuhin/Enescu and the Rose recordings were strong. But Busch and Magnes make a congenial partnership – this is an expressive, romanticised performance reaching a peak in the Largo with subordinatory playing of great sympathy. The thunderous bass accents in the finale won’t be to everyone’s taste and aren’t to mine. The A minor is live – another lucky Busch survival and the rest of this Town Hall concert is coupled with those Handel Concerto Grosso recordings on Pearl Gemm CDS 9296. The sound is somewhat constricted – but the flexibility of Busch’s line is uncanny. There is some less than ideally pure tone – the recording heightens some rather desiccated moments –but his dynamic and metrical sophistication is unarguable, though some aspects of tempo-relation may be considered a little stodgy. A few thumps on the acetates are of no consequence. The continuo of Lukas Foss is more audible than Balsam’s and supports Busch’s devoted phrasing. The Piano Concerto is robust, forthright, with even trills and splendid passagework. Istomin gives a youthful and technically secure performance that is never quite deep enough.

My reservation? There is often not more than one second’s gap between movements. Unbelievable. Can Pearl have listened to the disc before they issued it? As a matter of urgency they should immediately repress and do this disc the justice it deserves.

Jonathan Woolf


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