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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in D minor, op. 58 (1891) [38:35]
Scottish Fantasy in E flat major, op. 46 (1880) [31:00]
Jack Liebeck (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 2013, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, UK
HYPERION CDA68050 [69:35]

This is Volume 17 in Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series. While the Piano series has mostly concentrated on “unsung” composers, the Violin series has had more prominent names, among them Saint-SaŽns, Schumann and Strauss. Thus, the appearance of Max Bruch’s name is not too surprising. Certainly his third concerto is a rarity on record, the two recordings here being among the half-dozen or so currently available. That Hyperion elected to partner it with the very popular Scottish Fantasy suggests to me a lack of courage. Was there the thought that the recording needed a well-known work to help it sell? That hasn’t been the case through most of the Romantic Concerto series, and it is not as though Bruch wrote nothing else for violin and orchestra. The late, very substantial and very rare Serenade (op. 75) would have been a disc-mate far more appealing to collectors.

We are not short of great recordings of the much-loved Fantasy: Heifetz, Oistrakh, Chung, and more recently Benedetti and Pine. Where does Liebeck fit into this? I am sad to report that his performance sinks without a trace, almost from the start. He has chosen a very deliberate and restrained approach, with little drama or romance. I have no doubt that he is a fine violinist, and he is accompanied by a great orchestra and very experienced conductor, so this clearly is his vision of the work. Unfortunately, for me it is lifeless, colourless and a complete miscalculation. It sounds slow, but is in fact the same overall timing as Nicola Benedetti’s outstanding recording from last year (see review). Brian Wilson described Liebeck’s performance as ‘rhapsodic’ in DL News 2014/12; I can’t be that polite.

Things are not much better with the Third Concerto, a work which somehow I had not heard before. Brian found it “unengaging”, a sentiment with which I agree. He felt it was due to the expansive tempo adopted in the very long first movement, but Lydia Mordkovitch on a recent Chandos reissue takes almost two minutes longer, and manages to hold interest. In the finale, Liebeck is unquestionably too slow, and as with the Fantasy, what emerges is lifeless. The Third Concerto is not a great work, and needs far better advocacy than it gets here.

I can at least report on the positive side that the notes by Tully Potter and the sound are up to the usual label standard. I don't like writing reviews like this. Had I not downloaded this as a review copy from Hyperion, and hence felt obliged to write a review, I would have kept my thoughts to myself. I will be deleting it from my hard drive – that doesn’t happen often.

David Barker

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