Though he is not as famous as Furtwängler or Toscanini, Fritz Busch decidedly ranks as one of the great conductors in history, regarded most highly for the revivals he gave of Mozart operas at the Glyndebourne Festival in the mid-'30s, but in general admired from his work throughout his life and his high moral principles. Profil's Fritz Busch: His Complete Dresden Recordings covers what recorded evidence remains from Busch's tenure with the Dresden Staatskapelle, which began when Busch was named director of the Dresden State Opera in 1922 and ended when the Nazis forcibly removed Busch from the job in March 1933. It was the longest continuous position Busch ever held, and integral in shaping his international reputation.
The four-disc set is Volume 30 in Profil's ongoing Edition Dresden Staatskapelle series and consists of three standard CDs, one DVD, and a huge booklet running to nearly 300 pages. This aspect of the package is impressive in itself, as it is richly illustrated and packed with information about Busch's Dresden years, though the tracklisting is a little unclear in some respects, even though it is included twice in different languages; the German version is definitely more comprehensive than the English. The audio discs are divided into acoustic, electric, and radio broadcast categories, and the DVD contains a documentary about Busch and his 1932 film conducting the Dresden Staatskapelle in Wagner's Tannhäuser, which is just about the most exciting motion picture -- in terms of its unusual cinematography and editing -- ever taken of a symphony orchestra. The acoustic disc, which covers Busch's recordings from 1923, contains some interesting things, but is only partly representative. Busch is limited to a small band from within the Staatskapelle, utilizing those tinny, awful Stroh violins. That's not to say there aren't acoustical recordings of the orchestra that represent a conductor's particular interpretation of a given piece, but these don't do much for Busch's reputation; they are antiques at best, with only The Bartered Bride Overture and Weber's Invitation to the Dance coming across with some of Busch's typical energy. The electrical recordings on the second disc are a thousand percent better, and this disc contains the finest offerings outside of the DVD; bits from the 1926 premiere German performance of Puccini's Turandot, sung in German, featuring soprano Anne Roselle; bits of a 1931 production of Richard Strauss' Die Aegyptische Helena with Rose Pauly Dreesen in the lead; an orchestral suite from Verdi's La forza del Destino; and the audio track of the Wagner film; it was wise for Profil to include both audio and video versions of this item. The third disc, however, is the big letdown of the set, a 1931 radio recording via the short-lived Wagnerton -- an instantaneous-cut recording device -- of Busch leading the Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D major. The recording, cut at 33 rpm and badly distorted at points, is a difficult source to work with, at best; however, it is further compromised by Profil's far too aggressive handling of the noise reduction software; it is transient throughout and sounds like it was played through a big metal drainpipe, which makes the distortion sound worse than it originally did.
Busch is best represented by his Glyndebourne opera performances and the 1932 film with the Dresden Staatskapelle, and Profil's Fritz Busch: His Complete Dresden Recordings contains at least of these two artifacts. Despite its flaws, this is an admirable historical reissue that is ideal for music libraries and it will be a boon for hardcore admirers of this conductor.