Arguably the most popular of all the violin
concertos, Bruch’s G minor was for several years voted as the
audience top choice on the Classic FM ‘Hall of Fame’. Today I
noted on the ‘musica.co.uk’ website
that it continues to head the list of the ‘Top 100 Classical
Works’ based on data from
UK performance and CD sales. This Naxos
release incorporates two of Bruch’s
less familiar scores for violin and orchestra; the Konzertstück and
the Romance. The same forces recorded for Naxos
the Scottish Fantasy Op. 46 and the Serenade Op.
75 in Moscow, in 2003, on 8.557395 (see review).
Today Bruch is universally known as the composer of
the G minor concerto. It is generally forgotten that
Bruch actually wrote three violin concertos and was, in his
day, also famous for his large-scale choral works. Between
1870 and 1900 there were numerous performances of works such
as the secular choral works: Odysseus, Op. 41; Das
Feuerkreuz, Op. 52 and the cantatas Frithjof,
Op.23 and Das Lied von der Glocke, Op. 45 earning
for the composer a reputation that momentarily outshone that
of Brahms. Much to the chagrin of the composer, the increasing
popularity of the Concerto gradually overshadowed
the vast majority of his other
works. Today the two other scores of his that have remained
in the modern repertoire are the Scottish Fantasy for
violin and orchestra, Op. 46 and Kol Nidrei for
cello and orchestra, Op. 47.
Bruch was born in Cologne on 6 January 1838, in the
same year as Bizet. He studied there with Ferdinand Hiller
and Carl Reinecke. Extended journeys at home and abroad as
a student were followed by a longer stay in Mannheim, where
his opera Die Loreley was performed in 1863, a work
that brought him to the attention of a wider public. Bruch's
first official appointments were as Kapellmeister, first
in Koblenz from 1865 to 1867, and then in Sondershausen until
1870, followed by a longer stay in Berlin and a period from
1873 to 1878 in Bonn, where he dedicated himself to composition.
After a short time as director of the Sternscher Sangverein
in Berlin, in 1880, he was appointed conductor of the Liverpool
Philharmonic Orchestra, leaving England in 1883 to become
director of the Orchester-verein in Breslau. In 1891 he moved
finally to Berlin and took over master-classes in composition;
Respighi being one of his pupils. Bruch retired in 1911 to
devote himself to composition. He quickly became a victim
of the new fashion as he was now essentially writing music
in the manner of a bygone generation. Consequently the majority
of his music swiftly moved into virtual obscurity. Bruch
died in Berlin on 2 October 1920.
Violin Concerto No. 1 is arguably the most popular in the
repertoire. In 1865 Bruch had taken up his first official
position as conductor in Koblenz and by then was already
determined to tackle the concerto - a form that was new to
him as a composer. Bruch embarked on the Violin Concerto
in the summer of 1864 with the score taking four years to
write. It cost him a great deal of effort causing considerable
difficulty and he had to revise the score extensively. Eminent
violinist Joseph Joachim gave the first performance of the
work in its final and definitive form in January 1868 in
Bremen. It was soon adopted by other violinists, including
Leopold Auer and Ferdinand David in Leipzig. Bruch had sought
the advice of Joachim on the composition and in particular
on the solo writing for the violin. Advice, not all of it
acceptable, had come from Ferdinand David and also from the
conductor Hermann Levi. In later years Bruch was anxious
that the importance of such advice should not be exaggerated.
He sold the G minor Concerto to the publisher August Cranz
for 250 thalers, consequently losing the possibility of royalties;
a matter of obvious later regret.
The First Violin Concerto is unusual in form. With three
movements, all largely in sonata-form, it opens with a Vorspiel (Prelude),
the soloist entering in the sixth bar with a flourish. There
is a lyrical second subject and an opportunity for technical
display at the heart of the movement, before a shortened
recapitulation; with a return to the music of the opening
and a brief Allegro moderato that forms a link to
the E flat major Adagio. There the soloist immediately
announces the principal theme and, after an elaborate transition,
the second theme, already heard earlier in the movement.
Both themes return in the concluding section. There is a
distinct Hungarian lilt to the principal theme of the final
G major Allegro energico, and a suggestion of the
similar figuration Brahms was to use in his own Violin Concerto ten
years later. Both scores to some extent reflect the influence
of the Hungarian-born Joachim, to whom both works were dedicated.
In the first movement Vorspiel: Allegro moderato violinist
Maxim Fedotov initially takes a deliberate approach and is
rather tentative in the opening pages, gradually increasing
the vigour and becoming more exhilarating. At point 00.31
Fedotov provides a strong focus to the lyrical Jewish sounding
melody. Weightier rather than measured playing from Fedotov
is especially noticeable between 02.06-02.25. A warm and
relaxed mood is provided by Fedotov in the long melodic lines
from 02.37-05.41. Noteworthy between points 06.18-06.47 and
07.47-08.33 is the wonderfully rich orchestral playing from
the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky.
The short cadenzas at 06.57-07.20 and at 07.29-07.47
are marvellously performed by the stylish Fedotov.
In the beautiful central movement Adagio one
cannot fail to be impressed by Fedotov’s playing which is
strong, yet contains a tenderness that borders on the sensuous.
The interpretation is never sentimental and Fedotov provides
a genuine depth of passion with rapt concentration. His expressive
playing, especially at 08.16-09.15 sends a shiver down the
spine. Fedotov makes light work of the brilliant virtuoso
passages in the development section of the Finale.
Dmitry Yablonsky and his Russian players are in excellent
form throughout, heard to their best effect in the delightful
canonic interlude for orchestra. Throughout Fedotov displays
a natural understanding of the music’s rhythmic impetus.
His playing traverses a wide range of emotions, secure and
spirited, passionate and moody. Yablonsky and the orchestra
accompany the soloist admirably. In short this is a memorable
account of a frequently recorded score, that can join the
ranks of the very finest recordings.
There are a plethora of accounts of the G minor concerto
and I have six in my personal collection. My favourite version
is played by soloist Jaime Laredo, who directs the Scottish
Chamber Orchestra, available from IMP Classics PCS 829 (c/w
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto). Laredo’s special account
is warm and extremely characterful, so full of joy and spontaneity.
This recording, which has also been reissued on Regis RRC
1152, does not include any information about the date or
venue of the recording.
For alluring playing that is full of personality and
humanity I am a strong advocate of the version from Tasmin
Little with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under
Vernon Handley. The recording, made in Liverpool in 1991,
is available on EMI Classics for Pleasure 7243-5-74941-2-0
c/w the Brahms. Another favourite version was recorded in
Leipzig, in 1977, by Salvatore Accardo with the Leipzig Gewandhaus
Orchestra under Kurt Masur on Philips Duo 462 167-2. This
is an interpretation that sees the stylish Accardo providing
vital and characterful playing. The couplings on this well
packed, all Bruch, Philips Duo set are the violin concertos
2 and 3, the Serenade, Op. 75 and the Scottish
Fantasy, Op. 46. Primarily for his exquisite tone and
thrilling playing the historic 1962 recording from Jascha
Heifetz with the New Symphony Orchestra of London under Sir
Malcolm Sargent on RCA 09026 61745-2, draws considerable
approval from a large group of admirers (see review of re-release).
The crammed RCA disc also includes the Scottish Fantasy and
Concerto No. 5.
The Konzertstück, Op. 84, was completed in 1910.
Bruch had taken the advice of Joachim's former pupil, Willy
Hess, who had recently taken up a position at the Berlin
Musikhochschule, on the layout of the violin part. The work
seemed originally to have been intended as a fourth violin
concerto, but with only two movements, linked like the first
two movements of the first concerto and, indeed, like Mendelssohn's
Violin Concerto in E Minor, a discernible influence on the
earlier work, the title Konzertstück (Concert Piece) seemed
preferable. It was dedicated to Hess.
The first movement of the Konzertstück, marked Allegro
appassionato, starts with an extended orchestral exposition,
opening dramatically with a theme that is to form the substance
of the solo entry. The soloist leads, through demanding
transitional material, to a deeply felt second subject,
thematic material that is to return after the display of
the central development. There is a passage of greater
tranquillity that forms a link with the following Adagio,
ma non troppo lento, in the key of G flat major, the
enharmonic equivalent of F sharp major. Here the soloist
offers the principal theme, that of an Irish folk-song, ‘The
Little Red Lark’. It is this that forms the principal
thematic substance of the movement, finally bringing it
to a gentle conclusion.
1874 Bruch had completed the first movement, in A minor,
of a projected second violin concerto. In the event he decided
to leave it as a separate work of one movement – the A minor
Romance - and the actual Second Violin Concerto was first
heard in 1877 when Pablo Sarasate played it in London, while
the Third Violin Concerto, expanded from an original single
movement, was completed in 1891. As before, Bruch had taken
advice from Joachim on the violin writing, and from Robert
Heckmann, to whom the work was dedicated.
The A minor Romance, Op. 42, is introduced by
wind chords and the solemn notes of a solo horn, before the
entry of the soloist, marked Mit einfachem Ausdruck (With
simple expression). The melody returns in a lower register
before the orchestra leads the way to the F major second
theme, proposed with double stopping by the soloist. Both
themes are to return, the first calling now for violin octaves
and the second in A major, with a conclusion marked by the
gentle ascent of the solo violin into the heights.
Fedotov plays both the Konzertstück, Op. 26 and
the Romance, Op. 42 with considerable assurance. He
clearly knows the scores inside out and no nuance is missed
or detail left untouched. There’s first class support from
conductor and orchestra.
Salvatore Accardo with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
under Kurt Masur have recorded excellent accounts of both
works and these offer assured and poised playing (Philips
Duo 462 164-2). The coupling on this generous all Bruch Philips
Duo set includes the Symphonies 1-3, the Adagio appassionato,
Op. 57 and In Memoriam, Op. 65.
booklet notes from Keith
Anderson are as exemplary as we have come to expect and the
recorded sound is of high quality. However at just over fifty
minutes the total playing time is less than generous.
Naxos have uncovered a real gem in violinist Maxim Fedotov
and I look forward to more of his recordings of late-Romantic
An excellently performed and recorded release from Naxos
that will provide considerable pleasure.