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.