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Bruch (1838-1920) - Violin Concerto No. 1

Bruch wrote three violin concerti. Why, I wonder, are the other two never performed, when everything of his that I do hear is wonderful: surely these cannot languish because they are rubbish? Well, if you are curious, there's a Philips Duo CD (462 167-2PM2) available containing all three concerti. Like its usual partner-on-record, Mendelssohn's concerto, Bruch's G Minor is a mould-breaker, yet its formal novelty is camouflaged by exceptional lyrical and dramatic qualities, a disguise reinforced by the rhapsodic nature of much of its material. Even submerged, though, formal processes lend strength, and this work is stronger than it might seem. 

Many hold that the opening is merely an extended introduction to the slow movement. Quite frankly, this view fails to resist even my limited analytical gaze: the first movement possesses a form and character all its own. It may be overshadowed by the Adagio's exquisite song and the Finale's propulsive energy, but it is tense, expectant, and fervent - arguably the most gripping music in the entire concerto. 

1. Allegro moderato is an elaborated ternary form (ABA). The outer sections are characterised by passionate declamation, with some especially gritty expostulations from the soloist. The central section introduces a strong melodic line, harbinger of the Adagio. A dotted figure in the orchestra eventually dominates a remarkable bridge passage of immense dramatic drive (the signature tune of an early sixties children's TV programme: interval quiz - what programme, and who presented it?). The opening materials return, clearing the air for . . . 

2. Adagio: The concerto's emotional heart is, surprisingly, a rondo form, the ABACABA pattern discernable through a veil of continuous variation. [A] is the famed ecstatic melody for the soloist. [B] appears on the horns, three descending pairs of notes (Strauss subsequently cloned this in his Alpine Symphony). Gently pulsing tympani highlight the return of [A]. [C], more agitated, initiates the the movement's climax at which [A] ardently propels [B] into the limelight. [B] yields to the violin, caressing [A] and weaving upwards, making room below for [B] to quietly snuggle in. 

3. Allegro energico: An almost Brucknerian opening crescendo thrusts a sturdy dance-tune on its swaggering way. Another crescendo releases a striding, confident second subject contrasted in every respect except audience impact. The cloudless clarity of this contrast establishes the most obvious formal device of the work, a sonata. But Bruch remains inventive: like in a Scarlatti sonata, there's no development section - that seems to permeate the whole movement. He turned the formal world upside-down, making sophisticated use of two of the simplest classical forms, then simple use of one of the most sophisticated. All this going on, and what do we do? We just wallow in those gorgeous tunes. Well, why not?
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© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


 

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