This Naxos program offers what are very much "Russian"
performances. I don't mean that in the bad way - suggesting coarseness,
sloppiness, or technical ineptitude, all of which have characterized
some Russian performances in the past, especially in mainstream
repertoire. The playing here is technically polished and the phrasing
idiomatic. Rather, it's the level of energy and commitment that
struck me as distinctively "Russian".
Soloist Maxim Fedotov produces a firm-bowed, full-bodied tone which
he can scale his sound back into a gentle, melting piano
without sacrificing projection or vitality. Even when his
sound is at its most vibrant, the phrases are cleanly outlined.
He's secure maneuvering high on the E string, taking the vaulting
upward leaps with assurance; only in some of the highest passages
does any hint of "defensive" portamento creep into
the sound. His poised playing yields little to Accardo's pure,
soaring intonations (Philips) in clarity, and has the edge
The Russian Philharmonic under Yablonsky contributes a polished backing.
The brass playing strikes me as particularly Russian in its
thrust and cut - no watery horns or heavy, pushed trumpets
here. Their clean, full-throated chording dominates the tuttis
- especially as captured in Naxos's capacious engineering
- and lends the music a portentous, almost melodramatic atmosphere
that is certainly effective.
This treatment is a tonic for these, dismissively thought of as Max
Bruch's two "other" violin concertos. True, both
scores suffer from "sequel-itis," as the composer
attempted to exploit the immediate popular success of his
First Concerto. He's moved the key from the First's G minor
to the similarly fiddle-friendly key of D minor, but otherwise
neither concerto strays far from its structural model. Each
begins with a quietly ominous passage that takes time to resolve
into serenity. Each features some sinuous, caressingly expressive
lyric themes - that at 14:04 of the Third Concerto's first
movement is especially lovely - though none of them achieves
the hushed concentration of the G minor's slow movement. The
Second Concerto's finale, too, recalls the mood of the analogous
movement of the First, replacing the latter's impulsive exuberance
with an affirmative stride.
The open-hearted performances here lift these scores above the realm
of insipid sweetness to which they're too frequently consigned.
The Third Concerto still isn't quite an unqualified success:
Bruch worked on a larger, more ambitious scale here than in
the score's predecessors, and as the long outer movements,
particularly, ramble on, the music's actual invention comes
to seem a bit threadbare. But the composer's craftsmanship
- and the performers' energy - carry the listener along irresistibly.
Just because these scores aren't from the composer's top drawer doesn't
mean they're not worth hearing, particularly the Second Concerto.
At budget price, this is quite a good way to get to know them.