Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Symphony No.1 Op.28 (1868) [27.30]
Symphony No.2 Op.36 (1870) [33.22]
Staatskapelle Weimar/Michael Halász
rec. CCN Weimerhalle, Weimar, Germany, 17-20 March 2008
NAXOS 8.570994 [61.07]
There have been or still are at least a dozen recordings of Bruch’s three symphonies, five of the first, three of the second and four of the third, each of which made an impact in their day - respectively 1868, 1870 and 1882 - and the first two of which went some way to fill the gap between Schumann’s last and Brahms’ first over a remarkably long period of a quarter century. Carl Dahlhaus credits no one with writing any meaningful symphonies during this time, but the evidence would indicate otherwise thanks to those by Bruch, Dietrich, Lachner, Hiller, Rufinatscha, Gernsheim, Draeseke, Volkmann and others. These symphonists are not to be dismissed out of hand.
Compared to Conlon (EMI), Masur (Philips), Hickox (Chandos), Schmalfuss (mdg) and Wildner (ebs), the conductor here, Michael Halász persistently takes swift tempi. At times it results in a musical gabble of detail; the scherzo of the First Symphony is the main casualty, though to be fair the finale of the same work actually benefits from a faster approach than others take. One feels nevertheless that Halász is embarrassed by the music and seeks to get through it as fast as he can, which does the composer a disservice. One has to accept Bruch’s paucity of ideas in his finales, and his reliance on the arpeggio and the frequent string-scrubbing - which Bruckner was soon to perfect - to get his effects. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The start of the Second Symphony creates the right atmosphere of mystery and foreboding mingled with passion when the Allegro gets going, but again Halász comes in at two or three minutes faster than most of his colleagues. On the evidence of this disc, the Staatskapelle Weimar is a fine orchestra, its wind players shape Bruch’s idiomatically Romantic phrasing with delicacy and care while the strings know how to inject fire and warmth as the music builds to the climaxes. However, few, including Halász pick up on or emphasise Bruch’s main theme of the finale; in it he alludes to the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth (track 7 at 27:00) in a way that sounds remarkably like the main theme of the finale of Brahms’s First written some six years later. It needs the same sumptuous string tone and texture, even a louder dynamic; here it is understated and goes for nothing.
Naxos now has an impressive five discs of Bruch’s concerted and orchestral music, but their editorial staff should check the box summary, which on the back of this one credits Bruch rather than Bloch with having written Schelomo. Probably the Scottish Fantasy was meant in this particular context.
Christopher Fifield 

Michael Halász persistently takes swift tempi. 

see also review by Brian Reinhart