Review: Adolf Busch & the Busch Quartet ‘Complete Warner Recordings’

By Laurence Vittes

In the 1920s, Adolf Busch was considered one of the world’s great violinists, alongside Bronislaw Huberman, Fritz Kreisler, and Carl Flesch. The importance of Busch as a soloist has dimmed, his career derailed by Hitler, the war, and poor health. But his work as leader of the Busch Quartet, which he founded in 1919 and led for more than 30 years, and as a chamber-music player in mainstream repertoire remains illuminating and inspiring.

Busch and his colleagues (second violinist Gösta Andreasson, violist Karl Doktor, cellists Paul Grümmer and, beginning in 1930, Herman Busch) were probably playing from old-school Peters parts, but their depth of line and strength of purpose make the great recordings they made in the 1930s of late Beethoven and Schubert sound like they had 21st-century urtext editions on their stands.

This 16-CD set includes glimpses of Busch as recitalist and conductor in Schumann, Reger, and Mozart, and lots of Brahms and Bach for whom Busch had a distinctly modern sense: His D minor Partita ebbs and flows spontaneously.


Listening to the Busch Quartet can have real-world benefits. Alfred Brendel, in his new book Music, Sense, and Nonsense, says that the Busch Quartet’s profound control of line and movement in late Beethoven demonstrates how the composer’s characteristic use of sudden dynamic changes, “as in the first movement of Beethoven’s Quartet, Op. 132, should be executed.”

The Takács Quartet’s first violinist Edward Dusinberre, in his new book Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets, describes how, after an unsatisfactory concert, he found himself listening to recordings of the “Heiliger Dankgesang” movement of the same Op. 132. “By far,” he writes, “the slowest recording was by the Busch Quartet, recorded in the 1930s. Despite the slow tempo there was never any sense of uncertainty about the way one chorale note moved to another: the end of one note was as quietly vibrant as the beginning of the next.”

Tully Potter’s long, authoritative liner note brings Busch to life. If you’re following with the score, the Busch Quartet will show you absolutely what the music is about, just like they do for Brendel and Dusinberre.


Adolf Busch

Adolf Busch & the Busch Quartet
Adolf Busch & the Busch Quartet: The Complete Warner Recordings
(Warner Classics)