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.
Also see review by Jonathan