The most amazing thing about these recordings of Brahms' G minor Piano Quartet and G major Violin Sonata by the Busch Ensemble is not that they're so soulful and so musical, it's that they're so out of tune and out of sync. For listeners who grew up with the idea that the first duty of performers is to get the notes right, this will be quite a shock to the system. How can performances in which the players are so often excruciatingly flat, in which the rhythms are so often painfully disjointed, in which the ensemble is so often appallingly sloppy be so deeply soulful and wonderfully musical?
It's simple. Fifty years ago, when getting the notes right was important but getting the spirit right was more important, it was possible for players as skilled as violinist Adolf Busch and pianist Rudolf Serkin to play out of tune and out of sync and still be considered great musicians. Which, of course, they are. Listen to the nuanced melancholy of the Allegro that opens the quartet -- does it matter that the ensemble slips in the development when the drama is so intense? Listen to the dancing exhilaration of the Rondo alla Zingarese that closes the quartet -- does it matter that the rhythm frays in the coda when the drive is so overwhelming? And listen to all of the sonata -- does it matter that there are moments when Busch and Serkin seem to be playing in different tempos when the whole work radiates such luminous lyricism? Maybe yes, maybe no -- it depends on the listener. Archipel's antique sound is a study in grays and browns, but at least it's honest.