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William BUSCH (1901-1945)
Cello Concerto (1940/1941) [23:27]
Piano Concerto (1937/1938) [28:18]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Piers Lane (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. details not supplied, 1994? DDD
LYRITA SRCD320 [51.45]

This is one of the fabled "new" Lyritas – which means that, despite not sporting the details on the disc, it was recorded back in 1994 and is only now seeing the light of commercial day. It’s devoted to two concertos by the short-lived English composer William Busch and the coupling has been avidly awaited by enthusiasts who knew of its existence but despaired of ever hearing the works. Despair no more.

The Cello Concerto was completed in 1941 and was written for that fine player Florence Hooton. It’s a ruminative, reflective work that opens with a winding, coiling lyricism that summons up Finzian vistas. Despite that allegiance one wouldn’t want to push the association too far; it’s not a work for example that foreshadows Finzi’s own later Cello Concerto, which is altogether a bigger work. Nevertheless Busch summons up fine contrastive sections in a strongly argued first movement. The central movement has its share of folkloric influence. In his typically amusing and assured programme notes John Amis is right to point once again to Finzi as a satellite influence on the writing, though in this performance there’s a slightly cosmopolitan air to the writing as well that ensures that nothing is mired in the generic. The writing is generous and effective. And the finale is ebullient, vivacious, with strong percussion, skirling strings and demanding writing for the soloist.

The Piano Concerto, written a few years beforehand, is a real contrast in styles. It was premiered by the composer with Boult and the BBC Symphony. Essentially neo-classical it has some fulsome touches, fine exchanges between soloist and winds for example – the latter sound just a touch recessed in the balance here. There’s a strong sense of torrent in the middle section – dissonant and fully aware of, say, Prokofiev - before a return to a modified kind of neo-classicism at the end. The slow movement is reflective though sporting some vigorous flourishing gestures – nothing static about it. The finale is a variational. It’s tightly and highly impressively argued, lean, adamantine, the most cerebral (but not academic) of any music on the disc. It shows the full range of his technical and expressive command – it’s not necessarily immediately likeable but it is impressive.

Hearing their performances one wouldn’t want to hear any other than Lane and Wallfisch to expound these works on disc. Their passagework is athletic and on the button – Lane’s in the finale of the Piano Concerto and Wallfisch’s in the brushstroke exchanges with orchestral principals. They both play with amplitude, sensitivity, fine tonal reserves and style. Handley conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with his usual architectural acumen.

Well worth the wait.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Bob Briggs

See also articles by Julia Cornaby Busch, the composer’s daughter and by Sinclair Logan


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