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Gil French
American Record Guide, September 2011

…it’s a well-written work in four movements with memorable melodies, solid structure, and superb writing for strings…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, August 2011

[see reviews by Christopher FifieldRecording of the Month: ‘quite the finest performance I have ever heard [of the concerto], including Kreisler’s famous 1925 recording’ – and Simon Thompson – ‘This disc is a great Bruch package, combining the most familiar with something new.’]

There’s very little to add to these enthusiastic reviews, except to endorse them wholeheartedly, as I see that other reviewers also have, and to report that the 24-bit download sounds excellent.

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, July 2011

Most collectors will already possess a recording of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto so for many the items of interest here will be the Quintet and the Romance. The Quintet, first of all, is a work of 1918, written towards the end of the Great War and of the composer’s life; it’s a real gem. Its deceptively gentle opening lulls the listener into a false sense of ease before plunging headlong into a full-on passage of Sturm und Drang. The rest of the movement contains a mix of beauty and stress but it shows that the composer had complete mastery of the Quintet form for this, his only excursion into the genre. The extra viola makes all the difference, adding a rich mellowness to the middle of the sound and creating something for the listener to bask in. In contrast to the opening movement, there is an underlying warmth and good humour to the Scherzo which is merry while remaining understated. The slow movement is gorgeously rich, thanks to the prominent role given to the middle strings. It’s an unapologetically lush four minutes and its brevity makes it feel like a beautifully transient moment, snatched before it disappears. The finale is then more restrained than one might expect, almost like an energised Minuet. For most of the movement it retains its elegance and mask of formality before breaking into a hell-for-leather coda, but not before a central section that reminds us of earlier stresses. This is a work well worth exploring, and the performance given here is superb. Gluzman has assembled a cast of players with whom he clearly has a close working relationship and it shows. There is a sense of collective joy in the music-making that works wonderfully. There’s that palpable feeling of introducing a new musical discovery into the world. For this, if nothing more, the disc deserves to do well.

The Romance is another delight. Originally scored for a solo viola with orchestra Gluzman arranges it for violin after the composer’s own version for violin and piano. As its title suggests, it is wonderfully luscious with a main theme to wallow in and sumptuous orchestration to boot. It feels much more like Massenet’s Méditation than Beethoven’s Violin Romances and it oozes Romantic decadence from every pore. A guilty pleasure!

As for the concerto itself, Gluzman and Litton provide a performance which, to my ears, can stand comparison with any of recent years. The first movement contains playing of proper vigour, making the music sound energetic and exciting. For once this—almost—prevents it from being a “mere” prelude to the slow movement which here unfolds in one endless, breathless line of legato beauty. The finale then bustles with energy without feeling rushed. Gluzman’s unashamedly Romantic playing makes this a version to cherish, and BIS’s recorded sound is first rate, close and immediate without losing its bloom. This disc is a great Bruch package, combining the most familiar with something new.

Christopher Fifield
MusicWeb International, June 2011

An understandable reaction to yet another performance of Bruch’s first violin concerto would surely have elicited much eye-rolling and a lot of invective from the composer, who always exhorted violinists to play one of the other eight concerted works for the instrument. As his biographer I can guarantee that. Yet I would be surprised if he did not like what he hears here. Vadim Gluzman, with a finely attentive accompanist in Andrew Litton and his responsive Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, plays it superbly—it’s quite the finest performance I have ever heard, including Kreisler’s famous 1925 recording. While transitions to tempo changes may strike one as over-stated, there is immense detail, subtle, sometimes rightly unsubtle, nuance and robust energy in the playing, as well as lingering lyricism. Clean cut double-stopping in a Hungarian goulash of a finale peppered with spice and rushing to a headlong conclusion will leave the listener breathless. The central Adagio avoids sentimentality while giving full rein to its Romanticism in long-arched phrasing and sweet tone, this after a ruggedly presented Prelude (itself starting with an almost too inaudible pp timpani roll). This account reminds us of the timely arrival of this work in 1868 between Mendelssohn’s and Brahms’ contributions to the genre, but more significantly it shows us how much Bruch was influenced by the former and in turn influenced the latter.

If nothing else, it made financial sense for Bruch to make versions of his music for other instruments to play and while he did not (to my knowledge) envisage his viola Romance being accompanied by an orchestra, he certainly did offer a version with piano accompaniment. Pragmatism dictated the sense of doing so for after all there were and still are more solo violinists about than solo violists. It is a beautiful work, hard to programme because of its awkwardly short length but ideally suited for inclusion on a recording. One misses the viola’s lowest fifth from G to C which Bruch always loved in much-favoured alto register instruments (clarinet, cello and French horn were often prominent in his orchestration), but Gluzman’s fine playing is fair exchange in this very interesting and rewarding exercise—and there is always Gérard Caussé’s fine account on Erato of the original version for the viola.

At the end of his life Bruch—like so many other composers—returned to chamber music. At the start of his career in the early 1860s he produced a piano trio and two string quartets, but apart from a mid-life piano quintet in 1886, he wrote nothing else until two quintets and an octet all for strings in 1918/1919. They in no way sound as if the Rite of Spring was five years old, nor that Bartók and Schoenberg were well on their way to establishing themselves on the music scene. Instead they remain rooted in the 1860s when Bruch was writing his best music. Ferdinand David, Joachim and Sarasate were consulted when writing all his earlier works for violin, but they were all dead by 1918 so it was now the turn of Willy Hess to take on that advisory role. The result is that the first violin is the virtuoso while its four colleagues (including a second viola) take on a comparatively subsidiary role (also true of the other quintet and the octet). Needless to say Gluzman rises to the occasion if not beyond. His masterly technique is admirable and recalls Ulf Hoelscher’s disc for CPO. If, as one would assume from a lack of a name for this ensemble, this is a put-together group who have met for the recording, one can only praise their blend and balance as well as unity of phrasing and control of passage-work.

This is an enterprising combination of works by Max Bruch, given superb performances by everyone involved, not forgetting the sound engineers and post-production editors Fabian Frank, Martin Nagorni, Hans Kipfer and Michaela Wiesbeck, who too often go unappreciated in our perception of the recording industry.

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