Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Serenade in A minor, Op. 75 (1899) [36:26]
Romance in A minor, Op. 42 (1874) [10:21]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1868) [25:25]
Jack Liebeck (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, September 2014
The Romantic Violin Concerto – Volume 19
HYPERION CDA68060 [72:14]

The popular works of Max Bruch are so melodic and appealing that it's easy to forget just how out of sync they were with their time. Take a look at the dates in the headnote, and consider what else was going on: by 1899, when Bruch wrote the Serenade, Debussy was completing the Nocturnes, Richard Strauss had already composed Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben, and Verdi had Otello and Falstaff behind him! Only Bruch's weightier orchestral sonorities and more energetic counterpoint mark his scores as belonging to the late, rather than the early, nineteenth century.

Still, Hyperion's program, with the familiar G minor concerto anchoring two less frequently played works, makes a pleasing vehicle for the young violinist Jack Liebeck, who has extensive concert, recital, and film credits. His tone quality is clear and vibrant, though the timbre, at times, lacks depth. He can, however, expand with amplitude into impassioned climaxes, or scale down for passages of hushed stillness, all without losing quality; only at the start of the concerto's Adagio is the sound briefly "thready." Liebeck has virtuosity to spare, tossing off the double-stops incisively, pacing the various flourishes with a rhapsodic flair. He gives shape to the more elaborate solo lines with clear, subtle accentuations, and, particularly in the Serenade, he really feels the expressive power of the harmonic shifts.

At the podium, Martyn Brabbins provides musically informed support. His rhythmic address is less alert than Liebeck's: loosely controlled string attacks produce thicker textures than necessary. On the other hand, he has a knack for teasing wind colours out of the more intricate passages, and, like his soloist, shapes phrases with a clear sense of direction, taking nothing for granted. Together, Liebeck and Brabbins, with their attention to detail, bring a fresh, satisfying sense of purpose to the overworked G minor concerto.

The less familiar scores themselves are rather interesting. The four-movement Serenade is effectively a full-scale violin concerto; perhaps the alternative title helped avoid the taint of "sequelitis" that has long dogged the composer's official second and third concerti. The score, despite that title, isn't entirely lyrical: the tuttis of the second movement, Allegro moderato, alla marcia, comes off as particularly marziale. The Romance, was originally intended as the opening of a full-length concerto; it makes a pleasing effect on its own, its spacious breadth and serene conclusion harking back to the Beethoven model.
Hyperion's recording lives up to its established high standard; an unobtrusive ambience gently enhances those warm wind colours and fills out the tuttis pleasingly.
This disc merits attention, both for the familiar concerto, which comes off well -- without quite challenging the venerable Chung/Kempe (Decca) -- and for the other pieces, for which there's little competition. Salvatore Accardo, in his Philips survey, offers extraordinarily pure, singing tone, but Kurt Masur's musicianly accompaniments, as recorded, sound comparatively homogeneous.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.

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