Sunday, 17 February 2013

Adolf Busch in Beethoven

The omens were not good, and I half regretted ordering the Guild issue of Adolf Busch's March 1949 performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Statsradiofoniens Symfoniorkester conducted by one Launy Grøndahl. Busch was born in 1891 and died in 1952, so this performance was just three years before his life and career ended. The Danish radio station did not have a tape machine, so the radio recordings were made on a turntable, of which the station only had one, necessitating gaps in the recordings when one disk was full and the next one was made ready. Conductor and orchestra were unknowns (to me). I ordered the CD because of Adolf Busch who, especially when playing Bach, Beethoven or Schubert has always seemed to me to be without equal.

By serendipity, the performance proved to be a major acquisition. In my opinion, for performances of the Beethoven concerto that are truly great (amongst the many hundreds of violinists who have played the work), one has to concentrate on Busch, Erich Röhn, Kulenkampff and Schneiderhan. This 1949 Busch performance is a triumph of digital rescue. The remastering engineer, Peter Reynolds, has done absolute wonders with the sound, which is more enjoyable and natural than many modern digital recordings. The five gaps in recording have been expertly patched by Anthony Hodgson with bits from Busch's 1942 recordings, and few will notice many of the gaps. The performance is Busch's Beethoven at its best and greatest, with especially superb repose in the central larghetto. This recording receives one of my very rare “AAA” accolades; even the orchestra and the conductor come out with flying colours.

We live in a remarkable age of audio restoration, with the return of great artists of former years such as Busch and Furtwängler. For me, almost everything recorded by Busch and his string quartet in the music of Beethoven and Schubert deserves re-issue on golden discs – and his Bach performances can follow swiftly on. Audio restoration is a job for dedicated craftsmen, not for those working to a budget or earnings target. Thus the highly limited success of the mass digitisation programmes undertaken by companies such as EMI and RCA in the 1980s and 90s (not to mention the mangling of the Russian tapes in the 1990s by the likes of Bertelsman and Russian Disc). EMI Classics has now been sold to Warner, so do not expect much from the treasure vaults of EMI's unrivalled horde from the early 1900s to 1990; I suspect that Warner engineers are more accustomed to p/e ratios and Return on Investment (ROI) than they are to spending hours and days on restoring a 1949 classical recording to pristine audio condition (no pun on any audio recording company intended!)

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