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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, op. 44 (1877) [29:21]
Violin Concerto No. 3 in D minor, op. 58 (1891) [41:19]
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. 1988, Blackheath Concert Halls, London
CHANDOS CHAN10865X [70:40]

Lydia Mordkovitch passed away last year at the age of 70. She was a founding artist of the Chandos label, making in the vicinity of forty recordings, often of quite obscure repertoire, the Dyson concerto being a particular favourite of mine. This is one of a number of tribute reissues, the two works originally released on separate CDs (CHAN9738 and CHAN9784), coupled with Bruch symphonies.

Max Bruch despaired of the popularity of his First concerto, considering the Second to be at least its equal. I think that those agreeing with that assessment would be in a very, very small minority, but it is certainly under-appreciated. It was written for Sarasate, who performed at its premiere at London’s Crystal Palace. Its structure is unusual, a long Adagio non troppo to open, occupying half the work’s duration, followed by two Allegros. Brahms was disparaging of this, believing that the opening movement was “intolerable for normal people”.

Mordkovitch delivers an intensely poetic reading of the Adagio, slow without ever losing forward impetus. It contrasts strongly with my reference for this work, Nai-Yuan Hu on a 1990s Delos recording with Gerard Schwarz in Seattle. He is fully three and half minutes quicker in this movement. I prefer his version, but can see many merits in that of Mordkovitch. She again takes the slower route in the brief second movement Recitative (Allegro moderato), perhaps too much so in terms of providing contrast from what has come before. The final movement Allegro molto is half a minute slower than Hu, but this is not really noticeable, and Mordkovitch’s overall conception of the drama in this work is sustained to the end with great success. Both versions will sit very happily in my collection.

As Bruch got older, his concertos got larger but not better. The Third has plenty of beautiful moments, as all Bruch works do, but it is not able to sustain interest for its duration of approaching forty minutes (or even longer in this instance). In a review that I wrote at the same time as this one, I penned the most scathing comments I have made for this site on another all-Bruch recording, that by Jack Liebeck of the Third Concerto and Scottish Fantasy on Hyperion CDA6805. My criticism centred around the soloist’s lack of involvement, and the absence of both poetry and drama in each work. Mordkovitch begins the Third Concerto even more slowly than Liebeck, stretching the opening movement to more than twenty minutes, two minutes more than any other recording. This clearly ignores the energico marking, but unlike Liebeck and as in the Second Concerto, she manages to maintain some sense of momentum. The remaining movements are better, the finale particularly so.

There is a direct competitor for this recording, with Maxim Fedotov on Naxos (review). I haven’t heard it, but the comments from my three colleagues suggest that it is nothing out of the ordinary. I note that there is a difference of more than ten minutes across the two works. I can safely say that the orchestral accompaniment on the Naxos will not compare with the Rolls Royce quality accorded to Mordkovitch. The notes are unusually perfunctory for this label.

David Barker



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