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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D Op.77
Tasmin Little (violin)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley (conductor)
Recorded in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, June/July 1989 and September 1991 respectively EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 74941 2 0 [64.32] bargain price


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When programming concerts as a conductor, I try, as Bruch’s biographer, to avoid juxtaposing his music with the greater Brahms, an adjective which Bruch himself used in 1907, ten years after Brahms’ death. "In 50 years time I shall be remembered only for my G minor violin concerto…Brahms was the greater composer because he took risks". But if the two are to be bedfellows, then at least on this CD we have Bruch represented by his best music in the first violin concerto, (there are two others) as the companion work. It achieved its final form in 1868, Mendelssohn’s concerto having dominated the concert platform for 25 years. The violinist Joseph Joachim was an interesting performing link from Mendelssohn, via Bruch, to Brahms. He played the first work as a very young man, advised Bruch on the final revisions for his, and was asked for advice by Brahms, contributing the first movement cadenza which is usually played, including by Tasmin Little here. There are also similarities such as the finale paying lip-service to Hungarian gypsy music with lashings of goulash amongst the pyrotechnics. Bruch combines drama with lyricism in the first movement, Brahms (his first movement lasts nearly as long as the whole Bruch) sticks with the drama, and both have wonderfully tuneful slow movements (therein lies Bruch’s magic, for he knows how to produce a melody). Even Brahms, not the most modest of men, must have been touched by Bruch’s Adagio when he came to write his own fine slow movement ten years later.

I have known Tasmin Little’s playing for nearly 20 years, indeed I conducted her first Brahms concerto when she competed for, and won, the Gold Medal competition (in the footsteps of Jacqueline du Pré) at the Guildhall School of Music in London, where she studied. Subsequently she has played much of the standard repertoire with my Lambeth Orchestra, including Bruch No.2 and his Scottish Fantasy (which she went on to record magnificently). Her playing is as magical and alluring as it was then, full of personality, warmth and humanity, and these two recordings date from fairly early on in her career. Her tone is sweet, with considerable vibrato, the start of the Adagio of the Bruch compellingly still and tonally rich. Her phrasing connects musically, drawing the ear as the music unfolds with unerring attention to shape and pace. It’s good to see Jonathan Small’s fine oboe playing in the Adagio of Brahms’ concerto receiving due mention in the credits for it is thoroughly deserved (and so is the orchestra’s unnamed principal horn for his playing at various points). Vernon Handley and the RLPO are attentive accompanists, the future Mr Tasmin Little (Mike Hatch of Floating Earth) the expert balance engineer thus keeping it all nicely in the family. This is a fine disc, occupying a worthy place among the top ten recordings of both works.

Christopher Fifield


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