Adolf Busch

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos; Orchestral Suites

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Recorded in 1935 and 1936, Adolf Busch's interpretations of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and the Orchestral Suites are important historical documents that historians should closely examine and practiced listeners ought to appreciate, though newcomers to these works should probably wait before hearing these recordings and forming an opinion. Owing to practices of the times, Busch's Bach is encumbered by a fairly deliberate and weighty approach that involves thick-sounding strings, minimal ornamentation, some plodding tempos, and a complete reliance on modern instruments, including a piano for the continuo and featuring Rudolf Serkin as piano soloist in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. In terms of what is deemed proper Baroque performance practice today, Busch's versions are unavoidably stodgy and heavy in comparison. Compounding the problem of how these works sound to modern ears is the mono recording, which is exceptionally clear for its vintage, but bedeviled by incessant analog hiss and poor pickup of some of the parts, which seem to drop out when positioned too far from the microphone. Yet if these performances are judged within their time period, they are marvelously musical renditions with great expressiveness, texture, and style, and when they are heard in the context of some of the grotesquely exaggerated Bach recordings of the 1930s, they actually feel much closer to the aesthetics of the early music movement than they might at first seem. Since most experienced listeners have strong opinions on how these works should be played, as well as have favorite performances that none can challenge, they are free to judge Adolf Busch and the Busch Chamber Players accordingly. But no one should make these recordings their only experience of the Brandenburgs and the Orchestral Suites, especially with myriad all-digital recordings and historically informed performances available that will make first-time exploration easier and more pleasurable.

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