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Jonathan Woolf
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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op.51, No.1 (c.1868-73) [31:35]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-827)
String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 131 (1826) [39:27]
Busch Quartet
rec. January 1951, Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstrasse, Frankfurt; Hessischer Rundfunk live recording
MELOCLASSIC MC 4000 [71:12]

Fresh from Frankfurt in January 1951 comes an exemplary release from Meloclassic documenting one of the last staging posts in the existence of the Busch Quartet. The outer voices remain as they had since 1930, with the primarius Adolf and his brother, cellist Hermann Busch, in their accustomed seats. The second violinist was Bruno Straumann who had replaced Ernest Drucker in 1946. Violist Hugo Gottesmann joined in the same year as Straumann, replacing the long-serving Karl Doktor. The new quartet had thus had almost five years to retrench and re-establish itself. Adolf Busch’s health had long since been in decline, and he was to die the following year at the age of 61, which inevitably led to the disbanding of the group. So we are fortunate that this Hessischer Radio broadcast recording has been preserved and equally that it has been made available now.
Both the Beethoven and Brahms quartets were pillars of the quartet’s repertoire, and their pre-war HMV recordings have remained imperishable examples of their art. Those recordings were made when second violinist Gösta Andreasson and Karl Doktor were occupying the inner chairs and it can’t be denied that those 78 sets – the Beethoven made in 1936 and the Brahms in 1932 – generate a greater degree of tension and tonal breath. This is not so much to do with tempo decisions, as the opening movement of Op.131 is actually a shade tauter in 1951 than fifteen years earlier, so much as to do with establishing expressive density in the slow movements, especially the long Andante. The tempo, again, is much the same as their 78 set – maybe a touch faster – but it slightly lacks the verticality of ensemble sonority that so distinguished the HMV performance. I should also point out that it takes the quartet an awkward moment of two to establish the proper rhythm and ensemble in the Scherzo, thus things sound rather scrappy.
Brahms’s C minor quartet varies a little from their recording made two decades before but it’s noticeable, in fact, how little things had changed. The conception is intact, largely because it was in the main Adolf Busch’s conception. The opening is a bit tighter pre-war but it hardly matters. The Romanze is admirably played with a deeply prayerful quality impossible to ignore, affecting in its breadth of tone. There are some audience coughs in the poised finale but the recording fidelity is first-class.
Meloclassic ‘tips in’ its booklet notes (in English only for my copy) attaching them to the digipak. There are no problems recommending this 1951 concert as a worthy and moving appendix to the imperishable studio recordings of the 1930s.
Jonathan Woolf