About this Recording
8.557689 - BRUCH, M.: Violin Concerto No. 1 / Konzertstuck / Romance, Op. 42 (Fedotov, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)
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Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 26 • Konzertstück, Op. 84 • Romance, Op. 42

 

Today Max Bruch is generally known only as the composer of works for the violin. In addition to the Violin Concerto in G minor, the popularity of which continues, and, to the annoyance of the composer, eventually overshadowed much of his other work, we hear from time to time the Scottish Fantasy and the Second Violin Concerto. The fact that Bruch, in his day, was famous for his large-scale choral works is forgotten. Between 1870 and 1900 there were numerous performances of works such as Odysseus, Frithjof or Das Lied von der Glocke, earning for the composer a reputation that momentarily outshone that of Brahms.

Max Bruch was born in Cologne on 6 January 1838, in the same year as Bizet. He studied there with Ferdinand Hiller and Carl Reinecke. Extended journeys at home and abroad as a student were followed by a longer stay in Mannheim, where his opera Loreley was performed in 1863, a work based on a libretto by Geibel and originally dedicated to Mendelssohn, which brought him to the attention of a wider public. Bruch's first official appointments were as Kapellmeister, first in Koblenz from 1865 to 1867, and then in Sondershausen until 1870, followed by a longer stay in Berlin and a period from 1873 to 1878 in Bonn, when he dedicated himself to composition. After a short time as director of the Sternscher Sangverein in Berlin, in 1880 he was appointed conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, where he succeeded Julius Benedict, leaving England in 1883 to become director of the Orchester-verein in Breslau. In 1891 he moved finally to Berlin and took over master-classes in composition, Respighi being one of his pupils. He retired in 1911 to devote himself to composition, although now essentially writing in a traditional style that seemed to have passed. He died in Berlin on 2 October 1920.

The famous Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, caused Bruch considerable trouble. In 1865 he had taken up his first official position as conductor in Koblenz and by then he had already determined to tackle a form that was new to him as a composer, the concerto, embarking on the projected violin concerto in the summer of 1864. In the event Joseph Joachim gave the first performance of the work in its final and definitive form in January 1868 in Bremen, with further performances in other cities. It was soon adopted by other violinists, including Leopold Auer, and Ferdinand David in Leipzig. Bruch had sought the advice of Joachim on the composition, and in particular on the solo writing for the violin, and advice, not all of it acceptable, had come from Ferdinand David and from the conductor Hermann Levi. In later years Bruch was anxious that the importance of such advice should not be exaggerated. He sold the concerto to the publisher August Cranz for 250 thalers, thus losing the possibility of royalties, a matter of obvious later regret.

The concerto is unusual in form. With three movements, all largely in sonata-form, it opens with a Vorspiel (Prelude), the soloist entering in the sixth bar with a flourish. There is a lyrical second subject and an opportunity for technical display at the heart of the movement, before a shortened recapitulation, with a return to the music of the opening and a brief Allegro moderato that forms a link to the E flat major Adagio. There the soloist immediately announces the principal theme and, after an elaborate transition, the second, already heard earlier in the movement. Both return in the concluding section. There is a Hungarian lilt to the principal theme of the final G major Allegro energico, and a suggestion of the similar figuration Brahms was to use in his own violin concerto ten years later, both perhaps reflecting the influence of the Hungarian-born Joachim, to whom Bruch's work was dedicated.

The Konzertstück, Op. 84, was written many years later and completed in 1910. Bruch had taken the advice of Joachim's former pupil, Willy Hess, who had recently taken up a position at the Berlin Musikhochschule, on the lay-out of the violin part. The work seemed originally to have been intended as a fourth violin concerto, but with only two movements, linked like the first two movements of the first concerto and, indeed, like Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, a discernible influence on the earlier work, the title Concert Piece seemed preferable. It was dedicated to Hess.

The F sharp minor first movement, marked Allegro appassionato, starts with an extended orchestral exposition, opening dramatically with a theme that is to form the substance of the solo entry. The soloist leads, through demanding transitional material, to a deeply felt A minor second subject, thematic material that is to return after the display of the central development. There is a passage of greater tranquillity that forms a link with the following Adagio, ma non troppo lento, in the key of G flat major, the enharmonic equivalent of F sharp major. Here the soloist offers the principal theme, that of an Irish folk-song, 'The Little Red Lark'. It is this that forms the principal thematic substance of the movement, finally bringing it to a gentle conclusion.

By 1874 Bruch had completed the first movement of a projected second violin concerto. In the event he decided to leave it as a separate work of one movement, and the actual second violin concerto was first heard in 1877 when Pablo Sarasate played it in London, while the third, expanded from an original single movement, was completed in 1891. As earlier, Bruch had taken advice from Joachim on the violin writing, and from Robert Heckmann, to whom the work was dedicated.

The Romance in A minor, Op. 42, is introduced by wind chords and the solemn notes of a solo horn, before the entry of the soloist Mit einfachem Ausdruck (With simple expression). The melody returns in a lower register before the orchestra leads the way to the F major second theme, proposed with double stopping by the soloist. Both themes are to return, the first calling now for violin octaves and the second in A major, with a conclusion marked by the gentle ascent of the solo violin into the heights.

Keith Anderson


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