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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin concerto no.2 in D minor, op.44 (1878) [23:24]
Violin concerto no.3 in D minor, op.58 (1891) [37:01]
Maxim Fedotov (violin)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, KULTURA TV and Radio Company, Moscow; 9-14 May 2005
NAXOS 8.557793 [60:24] 
Experience Classicsonline

The moderate but enduring level of popularity that attaches itself to the Scottish Fantasia just about precludes Bruch from membership of the “one hit wonder” composers’ club. But listening to this new CD makes it easy to see why neither his second nor his third violin concertos have ever come close to approaching the ubiquitous concerto no.1 in the public affection.

Even Jascha Heifetz, whose 1954 world premiere recording of the second concerto, with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra under Izler Solomon, offers probably the most persuasive account of that work yet set down on disc, never managed to establish that work as part of the mainstream.

And, in the meantime, recorded accounts of the third concerto have been resolutely refusing to fly off the shelves. Indeed, I strongly suspect that my own 1978 recording by Salvatore Accardo, accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur, might never have seen the light of day at all except for the fact that the soloist was determined to be the first to offer on disc a full tour d’horizon of all Bruch’s works for violin and orchestra.

It is not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with either concerto. They are, in fact, well put together, of some musicological interest - Bruch was, in certain ways, an interestingly innovative composer - and intermittently quite compelling. But unlike the concerto no.1 and, to a lesser extent, the Scottish Fantasia, they remain for long stretches rather prosaic and earthbound. Those memorable “big tunes” and the seemingly unending lyrical stream that keeps the first concerto perpetually at or near the top of radio listeners’ popularity polls are comparatively absent here.

It is nevertheless good to welcome these new accounts to the market. There was, in 1954, nothing wrong with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra per se: its players included members of such prestigious outfits as the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and even Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra. But under Solomon’s plodding, lacklustre direction, it merely contributed a generalised and bass-heavy aural background to Heifetz’s characteristically steely line. The overall effect is to make the recording sound very dated. While I still love the unmistakable Heifetz sound and his propulsive sense of purpose, the far more natural and musical balance that the Naxos engineers have created between Maxim Fedotov and the orchestra will prove, for many listeners, a real plus.

Similarly, in the third concerto, while Accardo and Masur give an intelligent and intensely musical performance, the overall sound picture is warm and tubby (though infinitely superior to the RCA) - the musical equivalent of a warm bath. In itself there is nothing wrong with that. But listen immediately afterwards to the new disc and the advantages of state-of-the-art recording techniques are immediately apparent in the immense gains in clarity and orchestral translucence.

Although they are undoubtedly skilled and sensitive performers, it would be idle to suggest that Messrs. Fedotov and Yablonsky offer any striking new insights into the music. Nevertheless, they are certainly up there as with all the rest bar one - Heifetz, who remains, in the concerto no.2, in a league of his own.

It is a shame, however, that the opportunity was not taken to add more Bruch to the new disc. The spare 19 minutes or so might have just about offered room for the Konzertstück op.84 for violin and orchestra and would easily have accommodated the In memoriam op.65, the Adagio appassionato op.57 or the Romanza op.42, any of which would have offered Fedotov and Yablonsky even more opportunity to shine. And, while we’re talking about these talented artists, can’t the Naxos marketing team commission some new publicity photographs? In their current mug shots, Maxim Fedotov barely manages a smile for the camera while Maestro Yablonsky looks like he’s lost the winning ticket on the National Lottery - or has, at least, been told that his pet cat’s been run over.

At the usual highly attractive Naxos price, I imagine that many lovers of the concerto no.1 might well be tempted by this disc to explore Bruch’s music a little further. I am not necessarily sure that they will find it as immediately appealing as they might have anticipated - but acquaintance with the second and third concertos will at least show them in quite an agreeable manner that the composer had more strings to his bow (sorry!) than they had, perhaps, hitherto supposed.

Rob Maynard

see also review by Stephen Vasta


 

 


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