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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)
Symphony No. 3, Opus 51
Suite on Russian Themes, Opus 79b
Hungarian State Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
Rec 28-31 May 1987, Hungaroton Studio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.555985 [59.09]


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Max Bruch's reputation rests so firmly on the celebrated Violin Concerto no. 1 that it is tempting to regard it as his only significant achievement. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He was one of the outstanding teachers of his generation, and for many years was Director of Composition at the Berlin Hochschule, where his pupils included Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was also a fine conductor, who frequently worked in England, and from 1880 to 1883 he was based at Liverpool. But it is as a composer that Bruch remains most important; and it is certainly a cause for regret that so few of his works remain in the concert repertory today.

The reissue of this disc, recorded in 1987 and previously available on Marco Polo, is therefore to be welcomed. The Suite on Russian Themes is an appealing piece, warmly scored and constructed in three movements, with a short Vivace dance at the centre. The Hungarian State Orchestra plays with great commitment and the performance has a strong sense of purpose.

The recording of the Suite is slightly more ambient than that of the Symphony, which tends towards dryness. This does influence the quality of the string sound in the first movement of the latter, and perhaps that is why the music seems to lack direction, alternating as it does between slower and quicker identities. The Adagio second movement is much more satisfying, having a noble eloquence and breadth, while the lively scherzo has a pointed wit. Like the first movement, the finale tries to develop a certain symphonic weight, and it does have its exciting moments. Whether these would contribute to become part of a truly compelling experience might have as much to do with the dull recorded sound as with either the performance or the music itself. So the verdict is two cheers instead of three.

Terry Barfoot

Also see review by Jonathan Wolf


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