Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Busch String Quartet in Brahms

When the Busch String Quartet was finally formed in 1919 in Berlin after the end of the war, Brahms had been dead only some 20 years -- Adolf Busch was six years old when Brahms died. Listening to the Busch Quartet playing Brahms string quartets, one does have a sense of authentic performance (as the modern passion mandates). Almost certainly, this would have been how Brahms' quartets would have sounded when the composer was alive. Pristine Audio has issued the Busch playing the three string quartets, plus the first piano quartet. Though not a convinced lover of Brahms' chamber music, I listened with both interest and enjoyment to all these works and, as always, marvelled at the sheer musicality of the Busch Quartet.

As Andrew Rose notes on the Pristine website, these performances are also striking for what they tell us about advances in recording technology. 1925 was, of course, the first major technological breakthrough, with the advent of the microphone and electrical recording. The four works on the current CDs were recorded in 1932, 1947 and 1949 and the sound improves with each step (by 1949, HMV was recording using tape rather than the old shellac masters). Transfers, as we have come to expect from Pristine, are excellent. Busch and Serkin, the Busch String Quartet, and the Busch Chamber Players recorded extensively during the 1930s -- Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. I sincerely hope that, before long, all Busch recordings will be available in good, modern transfers. Meanwhile: thanks, Andrew Rose!

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