> Max Bruch - Symphony No. 3 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Symphony No 3 in E Major Op 51
Suite on Russian Themes op 79b
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck
Recorded Hungaraton Studio, Budapest May 1987
NAXOS 8.555985 [59.09]


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Recorded in May 1987 and first released on Marco Polo 8.223104 this budget price Naxos re-issue restores Bruch’s amiable Third Symphony to the catalogue in Honeck’s generally successful performance. Composed in Liverpool but using material from many years earlier the work was commissioned by the New York Symphony Society under conductor and scion of the musical family, Leopold Damrosch. It was first performed in 1883 under Georg Henschel in Boston and subsequently revised – German performances under Joachim and Von Bülow followed but, as with the cool reception accorded to his Second Symphony, the work made very little headway. Clearly a nostalgic work, it is motivically related to the overture to the opera Lorely – is this ever going to be recorded? – and to the verdant and bustling Rhineland writing of Bruch’s young manhood. The opening movement of the work embraces a second subject that reminds one of Ernest Newman’s comment about "one of Max Bruch’s pussycats", apropos Menuhin’s luscious playing of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. But purring pussycat or otherwise this is a beautiful moment, orchestrated with mastery and spun into a melody of elasticity and effulgent lyricism. The following Allegro molto vivace section of the movement is a vigorous working out, gruff and determined in mood, inclining sometimes almost to the indomitable but capable also of relaxing into oases of reflectiveness and rumination. The slow movement may or may not allude to Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which again might hint at some other internal textual references; despite this the movement doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. The scherzo is lively, orchestrally rich, a dance movement of pleasurable simplicity – rhythmically vivacious, energetic, with expertly crafted transient episodes of careful diminuendo. The Finale by contrast opens with a kind of moderato lyricism, flecked and lightened by a delicious little melody before burgeoning into lively developmental writing. This is a structurally cohesive Symphony, nostalgic in cast, rather conventional in structure, pleasurable to hear.

The Suite on Russian Themes was written in 1903 and based on a work for violin and piano, itself drawn from a popular Russian Songbook of 1898. The opening movement again explores Bruch’s liking for upper voicings, in an especially beautiful solo for cor anglais; it has a gravity and seamless beauty that is delightful to hear. The Funeral March movement is one of constrained gravity; its tread is expertly crafted with nothing marmoreal about it and instead a slight air of detachment. The Finale meanwhile includes a setting of the Song of the Volga Boatmen, spiced in a suitably busy arrangement. These are fine performances recorded in a decent, not over flattering acoustic – no halo or bloom burnishes the strings – but no matter, it’s all more than merely serviceable and the Third Symphony deserves an airing now and then.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Terry Barfoot

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