The moderate but enduring level of popularity that attaches itself
to the Scottish Fantasia
just about precludes Bruch from
membership of the “one hit wonder” composers’ club.
But listening to this new CD makes it easy to see why neither
his second nor his third violin concertos have ever come close
to approaching the ubiquitous concerto no.1 in the public affection.
Even Jascha Heifetz, whose 1954 world premiere recording of the
second concerto, with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra under
Izler Solomon, offers probably the most persuasive account of
that work yet set down on disc, never managed to establish that
work as part of the mainstream.
And, in the meantime, recorded accounts of the third concerto
have been resolutely refusing to fly off the shelves. Indeed,
I strongly suspect that my own 1978 recording by Salvatore Accardo,
accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur,
might never have seen the light of day at all except for the
fact that the soloist was determined to be the first to offer
on disc a full tour d’horizon
of all Bruch’s
works for violin and orchestra.
It is not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with either
concerto. They are, in fact, well put together, of some musicological
interest - Bruch was, in certain ways, an interestingly innovative
composer - and intermittently quite compelling. But unlike the
concerto no.1 and, to a lesser extent, the Scottish Fantasia
they remain for long stretches rather prosaic and earthbound.
Those memorable “big tunes” and the seemingly unending
lyrical stream that keeps the first concerto perpetually at or
near the top of radio listeners’ popularity polls are comparatively
It is nevertheless good to welcome these new accounts to the
market. There was, in 1954, nothing wrong with the RCA Victor
Symphony Orchestra per se
: its players included members
of such prestigious outfits as the New York Philharmonic, the
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and even Toscanini’s NBC Symphony
Orchestra. But under Solomon’s plodding, lacklustre direction,
it merely contributed a generalised and bass-heavy aural background
to Heifetz’s characteristically steely line. The overall
effect is to make the recording sound very dated. While I still
love the unmistakable Heifetz sound and his propulsive sense
of purpose, the far more natural and musical balance that the
Naxos engineers have created between Maxim Fedotov and the orchestra
will prove, for many listeners, a real plus.
Similarly, in the third concerto, while Accardo and Masur give
an intelligent and intensely musical performance, the overall
sound picture is warm and tubby (though infinitely superior to
the RCA) - the musical equivalent of a warm bath. In itself there
is nothing wrong with that. But listen immediately afterwards
to the new disc and the advantages of state-of-the-art recording
techniques are immediately apparent in the immense gains in clarity
and orchestral translucence.
Although they are undoubtedly skilled and sensitive performers,
it would be idle to suggest that Messrs. Fedotov and Yablonsky
offer any striking new insights into the music. Nevertheless,
they are certainly up there as with all the rest bar one - Heifetz,
who remains, in the concerto no.2, in a league of his own.
It is a shame, however, that the opportunity was not taken to
add more Bruch to the new disc. The spare 19 minutes or so might
have just about offered room for the Konzertstück
for violin and orchestra and would easily have accommodated the In
op.65, the Adagio appassionato
op.57 or the Romanza
any of which would have offered Fedotov and Yablonsky even more
opportunity to shine. And, while we’re talking about these
talented artists, can’t the Naxos marketing team commission
some new publicity photographs? In their current mug shots, Maxim
Fedotov barely manages a smile for the camera while Maestro Yablonsky
looks like he’s lost the winning ticket on the National
Lottery - or has, at least, been told that his pet cat’s
been run over.
At the usual highly attractive Naxos price, I imagine that many
lovers of the concerto no.1 might well be tempted by this disc
to explore Bruch’s music a little further. I am not necessarily
sure that they will find it as immediately appealing as they
might have anticipated - but acquaintance with the second and
third concertos will at least show them in quite an agreeable
manner that the composer had more strings to his bow (sorry!)
than they had, perhaps, hitherto supposed.
see also review by Stephen Vasta