Thursday, 19 August 2010

William Busch: Cello Music

The British Music Society has recently released a fine CD of cello and piano music. It includes works by Josef Holbrooke, William Busch and William Wordsworth.

If any work on this CD stopped me in my tracks it was the excellent Suite by William Busch. Busch had been born in London in 1901 of naturalised German parents. His musical teachers included the enigmatic Bernard Van Dieren and John Ireland. He moved in the circle of Alan Bush, Howard Ferguson and Gerald Finzi. Alas, Busch died young in 1945. The sleeve notes mention his Piano Concerto (1937-38) which has been recorded on Lyrita and coupled with his Cello Concerto (1940-41). Apart from these two masterworks the present CD appears to present the only other examples of his music currently available on disc.
The Suite for cello and piano was composed in 1943 and was dedicated to Florence Hooton – who was also the dedicatee of his Cello Concerto. The title of ‘suite’ must not be considered to make this music ephemeral: there is much profound thinking in these pages. In fact, it was the opening ‘Prelude’ that pulled me up sharp. This is music that is both moving and inspiring. Malcolm MacDonald suggests that it is one of the composer’s most eloquent inspirations. The second movement, a ‘Capriccio’, certainly lightens the mood, yet in spite of a touch of sardonic humour, this is not all fun. The composer does seem to create a certain black humour in these pages that reflects the time the piece was composed. The ‘Nocturne’ is pure perfection: this short movement creates a mood of beauty and idyll. Yet there is a valedictory mood to this music: Malcolm Macdonald has noted the ‘crepuscular atmosphere [that] recalls the late chamber works of Frank Bridge.’ The final ‘Tarantella’ in E minor is a romp. Written in compound time this music balances both fun and something just that little bit sinister. It is a perfect conclusion to a great work that is demanding for the players and totally rewarding for the listeners. It is one of my chamber music discoveries of the year (so far)...
The two short works that close this recital are amongst the very last the William Busch wrote. A Memory was composed in June 1944 and the Elegy the following month. Certainly, the former seems to be both reflective and meditative. The sleeve notes suggest that it is ‘something of the tranced, nostalgic English-pastoral’ that grows more agitated ‘and ends in a mood of bitter regret...’ This is a perfect miniature that is both heartbreaking, yet somehow positive in its conclusion. A Memory was based on the last song of William Busch’s song-cycle There Have Been Happy Days, which he composed in the early months of 1944 to a text by W. W. Gibson.
The Elegy is an altogether more substantial piece than A Memory. It begins with deeply moving ‘adagio molto sostenuto.’ This is largely for the cellist alone. In fact, for a large part of first section of this work, the piano makes only the most sporadic comments. However, the section does build up into a considerable passionate culmination of this slow music before a slightly more relaxed ‘allegretto non troppo’ takes over the proceedings. Malcolm Macdonald points out that this is a variant of the opening statement of the piece, which leads towards another climax before reprising the mood of the opening theme. It is an example of a relatively small work in timescale that contains a wealth of emotion and a depth of character that is largely unexpected.
William Busch's cello music can be heard on British Music Society BMS436CD

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

No comments: