Classical Reissue Reviews
Guila Bustabo, violin = BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; DVORAK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 – Concertgebouw Orchestra/Willem Mengelberg/NWDR Sinfonieorchester. Hamburg/Hans Schmidt-Isserdtedt (Dvorak) – Tahra
Published on July 21, 2008
Tahra TAH 640. 78:29 [www.tahra.com] ****:
Among the more brilliant and tragic personalities in music stands violin virtuoso Guila Bustabo (nee, Teressina, 1916-2002), a Persinger, Hubay, and Enesco pupil with the temperament of a panther and an absolutely impeccable technique who made the unfortunate career decision to remain in the Nazi-occupied countries during WW II and never quite overcame the affiliation. Dubbed “la prima donna assoluta” of the violin, Bustabo inspired several composers to write violin concertos for her, like Nussio and Wolf-Ferrari. Several years ago, Thomas Clear and Albert ten Brink of record-collectors’ fame issued transfers of her all-too-few shellac inscriptions–including the Wolf-Ferrari Concerto under Rudolf Kempe–to great acclaim. After a windy, tortuous road to semi-obscurity, Bustabo–who suffered bipolar disorder and occasional dementia–wound up living in two rooms of the YWCA in Birmingham, Alabama and serving as first violin of the local symphony orchestra.
The Tahra disc opens with a two-minute interview with Bustabo, who recalls her childhood fascination with the violin. The Beethoven Concerto with Willem Mengelberg (6 May 1943) resides on an exalted plane, thoroughly Apollinian from first note to last. Bustabo negotiates the half-steps and the long, arched phrases exactly as a trained vocalist, and her sustained trill and cantabile could float forever. Her tone is easily comparable to that of Menuhin, plaintive and affecting without dipping to sentimental caramel. The second movement theme-and-variations passes by like a magical vapor, so diaphanous is the interplay of violin and orchestra. The last movement dance could have been written for Olympians, the flourishes and added notes again blended into the fabric of the music as to appear effortless. Mengelberg, of course, responds with his huge style, plastic and rhythmically free, although he and Bustabo form a natural bond, immortal. Their collaboration in the Bruch G Minor Concerto (27 October 1940) ranks among the great interpretations of this popular work.
The Dvorak Concerto (21 March 1955) with Schmidt-Isserstedt flows as easily and idiomatically as the venerated readings by Nathan Milstein. Let is be noted that Furtwaengler specifically requested Bustabo as his soloist in this concerto. Her sometimes thin, nasal tone pierces to the heart of each phrase, and her trill is Slavic, chocolate milk. The Hamburg Philharmonic’s horn section obviously relishes their interplay with her in the Adagio, a strikingly lush realization. She leans into the melodic phrases and ends them with a slight ritard, a series of partings as such sweet sorrow. Her ability to graduate a crescendo is a lesson in itself. The athletic, vivacious Allegro giocoso rondo reminds us of what a gifted conductor Schmidt-Isserstedt was of Dvorak Slavonic Dances and tone poems. The singing line enjoys a dazzling flair and easy grace, the violin’s touch alternating from a razor’s rasp to a carefree butterfly. Bustabo takes the middle section slightly marcato, focusing on the double stops and then the liquid arco arioso passages. The orchestral tissue explodes forward, violin and harp in constant, balletic conjunction. The last pages proceed furioso from all participants, confirming the opinion of the German press, who said Bustabo was an artist with dynamite in her veins.
How to categorize Bustabo? A musical savant, a political naif. Likely the political climate in Europe during WW II corresponded to the authoritarian grip Bustabo had absorbed from her domineering mother, an influence that destroyed much of the artistic growth she might have enjoyed in the postwar democracies.