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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 (1884) [38:06]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35a (1897) [22:53]
Siegfried Borries (violin), Symphony Orchestra of Radio Berlin/Arthur Rother
rec. Berlin, 1949 (Brahms), 1951 (Busoni)

These two recordings derive from Urania LPs. The Brahms was also issued on The Classics Club. Both are rarities, and make an appreciated return in skilful remasterings. A brief word about the violinist in the Busoni Concerto may be welcome, as he’s hardly a household name.

Siegfried Borries (1912-1980) studied at the Cologne Conservatory with Bram Eldering. He rose to become a bright star in Germany after winning a couple of prizes in the early 1930s. He was appointed concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the young age of 20 in 1933. In 1941 he became concertmaster of the Preussische Staatskapelle, Berlin, a position he held until the end of the war, when he renewed his position with the BPO. Post-war, he taught at Berlin’s Hochschule für Musik in addition to cultivating a career as a soloist and chamber musician. Politics and East German involvement led to his suspension from the Hochschule for a while but he was later reinstated with restrictions. In the late 1950s, a dispute regarding his fee and refusal to participate in a 75th Birthday concert of the BPO resulted in his resignation in 1961. He died in Berlin in 1980.

The Busoni Violin Concerto has taken something of a backseat in the repertoire, unjustly in my view. Although of modest proportions, it's a captivating work, rich in melody. Early on it found its champion in Joseph Szigeti after the composer disowned it. Many regard it as a transitional work, late romantic through a mildly modern lens, with Brahms and Bruch thrown in for good measure. Borries gives a seductive reading and projects well. The central slow movement is ardently etched and Borries’ rhythmic energy in the finale carries the day. He commands good intonation and a rather fast, but flexible vibrato. Rother reacts instinctively to the nuances of the score. The Berlin acoustic is quite resonant and sadly lacks warmth, rendering the sound rather hard-edged.

The Brahms Fourth Symphony was recorded two years earlier, again in Berlin, but the acoustic is much different to that of the Busoni. Here there’s much more warmth and, as a result, the sound quality is infinitely preferable. Rother's tempi seem just right throughout. The faster movements are invigorating with phrases expressively sculpted. The slow movement is deeply plumbed, gloriously elegiac, wistful and beguiling. The third movement is rhythmically buoyant with plenty of punch. The weight of the symphony lies in the finale, with Rother bringing intensity and urgency to the narrative, concluding the work in imposing fashion.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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