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Classic FM, June 2012

Strap yourself in for a thrilling orchestral ride.

Maxim Fedotov produces a gloriously full and weighty sound, ideal for Bruch’s Romantic blockbuster. Not since Isaac Stern’s mid-1960s classic have those famous skin-tingling melodies hit the emotional bull’s-eye with such overwhelming intensity. If only the recording had possessed greater body and clarity, it would have been an outright winner. The two-movement Konzertstück was originally intended as a fourth concerto and is again played with scorching commitment by Fedotov, who clearly believes in every note…Fedotov’s surging spontaneity carries the day. © 2012 Classic FM

The Strad, August 2006

Though Maxim Fedotov’s highly expressive account of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto would stand comparison with any in a catalogue bulging with high-profile performances, it is the disc’s unusual couplings that will prove the draw. The earlier of the two works is the Romance dating from 1874, which is contemporary in time and style with the first concerto. Its title is rather curious for a score of such vivacity — a score that is stylistically linked with his subsequent Scottish Fantasy.

The composer had already turned 70 when he embarked on his Fourth Violin Concerto in 1911, getting only as far as two linked movements before he decided to rename the work Konzertstück. It certainly has many ingredients for success, with an imposing orchestral introduction leading into a movement providing the soloist with ample scope for virtuosity, while the following Adagio has no shortage of sentimentality.

Fedotov plays all three works with that typical Russian intensity created by a wide and potent vibrato that brings warmth to a leisurely view of the central movement of the concerto. He does smooth out some of the dynamics, but thankfully resists the now-customary dash through the finale of that work, and the pages of double-stopping are played with impeccable intonation, He is placed well forward of the orchestra and seemingly in his own acoustic, while the Russian Philharmonic and Dmitry Yablonsky make the accompaniment as interesting and potent as the composer allows. As a complete disc it is much recommended.

Victor Carr Jr., August 2006

It's nice to hear Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in the company of his lesser-known Konzertstück (and not, as it often is, paired with the Mendelssohn concerto). The Konzertstück is sort of a mini-concerto in two movements that features finely-spun and ingratiating tunes allied with masterful violin writing. The better-known Romance is an interlude whose serene beauty Maxim Fedotov faithfully recreates with his narrowly focused, silvery tone. In the Concerto this tone gains a tensile strength as Fedotov skillfully navigates the first movement's expressive permutations and later the finale's rustic dancing rhythms. However, Fedotov's interpretation is pretty much straightforward, keeping the music's emotional drama in balance. This works well enough, though admittedly the passion exhibited by Cho-Liang Lin is quite affecting, as is Heifetz's stunning virtuosity. Dmitry Yablonsky is of like mind with Fedotov, leading the Russian Philharmonic in a highly persuasive, well-played accompaniment. Naxos' recording places the soloist comfortably in perspective with the orchestra.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, July 2006

How do you like your Bruch? Sweet and sentimental or more down-to-earth? When I grew up Swedish Radio’s only channel had a programme late every Christmas Eve, “Santa Claus in the Gramophone Archive”. A recurring piece of music was the Adagio movement from Bruch’s first violin concerto. As far as I remember it was always very sweet, very sentimental. I have no recollection of who was the player, if it was the same recording every year. Anyway, when I got old enough to buy my own record player one of the first LPs was Wolfgang Schneiderhan playing the traditional coupling of Mendelssohn and Bruch. This has ever since been my benchmark version of both works. Unfortunately the record is now so scratched that it is unplayable so I couldn’t compare the present disc with the old master. My memory tells me, however, that Schneiderhan, without being sentimental had more sweetness of tone and a more even, less obtrusive, vibrato than Maxim Fedotov. Schneiderhan was more classically balanced while Fedotov is more down-to-earth. He plays with an incandescence that is refreshing and made at least this reviewer listen with renewed interest. And there is corresponding bite in the orchestra, Yablonsky and Fedotov obviously being of one mind as to how this music should be performed. The celebrated Adagio gets its fair share of sweetness, or rather inwardness. It is in fact rather subdued which actually makes it even more beautiful. This is a fully valid version of the oft-recorded concerto and at budget price no one wanting this music need feel short-changed. Even well stocked collectors may feel tempted by this issue, due to the two “fillers”, which are rarely heard and rarely recorded. Salvatore Accardo recorded everything by Bruch decades ago. I don’t believe they are available at present.

While the first violin concerto – he wrote three – is a work from his relative youth, the two-movement Konzertstück was written late in life when he was past 70. It is a beautiful, well crafted piece and even if it lacks the youthful freshness of the concerto it still has many of the same characteristics, Bruch not being one to change his musical language during his long career. This is music that needs a whole-hearted advocate and Fedotov lavishes all his energy and intensity as he does in the Romance. This was originally intended as the first movement of his second concerto but in the last resort he decided to publish it as a separate work. Initially somewhat darker than the concerto it soon turns out to be a grateful vehicle for technical wizardry, but as with so much of Bruch’s music it is the cantabile character that stays in the memory.

Neither of these two works are barn-storming “finds” but they are agreeable and attractive. I derived a lot of pleasure from the whole disc. Playing time is not over-generous but the price is attractive, Keith Anderson contributes one of his splendid essays and the recorded sound is all one could wish.

Christopher Fifield
MusicWeb International, June 2006

Credit should go to the Fedotov/Yablonsky team for this follow up CD to their previous Naxos disc (8.557395 -see review) which couples the Scottish Fantasy with the far less familiar Serenade Op.75. Last year EBS Records coupled the G minor concerto with its later sibling, the third in D minor, so hopefully such imaginative policies on the part of the independent record companies will wean the public off its commonly held belief that Bruch was a one-work composer, of that concerto and little else. As far as works for the violin and orchestra are concerned there are nine of them, which back in the 1980s Philips produced as a boxed set of vinyl played by Accardo under Masur. Only five of these were transferred to CD (Philips 462 167-2), with neither the Romanze nor the Konzertstuck among them.** The Romanze is available on Fleur de son 57925 and Vox Classics VXP 7906, but to the best of my knowledge this Naxos Konzertstuck is a premiere in CD format.

In 1870 Bruch opted for a freelance career as a composer after five years at Coblenz and Sondershausen respectively. This pattern of alternating the security of a paid conducting post with the freelance option as a composer would persist until 1890 when he became professor of composition in Berlin. Bruch never again achieved the success of his first violin concerto. Curiously it was through his secular oratorios such as Odysseus in 1870 that his fame spread, even to England, where its success eventually led to his appointment to Liverpool in 1880. As far as violin concertos were concerned, he attempted a second early in 1874, but his love life was going through a troubled patch, and after completing the first movement he lost his muse, the rest of the work becoming no more than a glimmer of ideas. He was, however pleased with what he had written and encouraged by positive responses from his friends and colleagues, so he decided to publish it as a single movement Romanze. Based on two typically lyrical melodies, according to one critic it was based on the Nordic Saga of Gudrun's Lament by the Sea, but knowing the composer's aversion to programmatic music and what was happening to him at the time, it is far more likely to be subtitled "Max's Lament by the Rhine for Amalie Heydweiller", whose love he had just lost. As the first movement to his projected second violin concerto it is unusual in that it is slow. Interestingly Bruch persists with this idea when he did indeed come to write the work some three years later.

By the time Bruch came to write the Konzertstuck he was over seventy years old. It was written for the American violinist Maud Powell, and again it became a truncated concerto, although this time in two linked movements rather than one. It was dedicated to Willy Hess, who Bruch had helped to return from his post as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to teach at the Berlin Music Academy - he had also led the Hall Orchestra and frequently performed Bruch's concertos. Powell gave its first performance at the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut on 8 June 1911, and part of the work was subsequently recorded, the first music by Bruch to be so. She has played the Adagio alone, half of it cut, into a machine (!!!). I told her a few truths, he wrote later that month. This Adagio uses the Irish folksong "The Little Red Lark" underlining the composer's love for folk music. It is a beautiful movement, reminiscent of the Adagio from Op.26, written soon after the death of his great friend and violin-adviser Joachim, and is the last music Bruch wrote for solo violin and orchestra. Four decades later, the circle had been completed.

Fedotov's playing takes no hostages; it is full-blooded in sound and passionately committed, at the same time clinically judged in clean intonation and phrasing, nevertheless the famous Adagio in the G minor concerto should bring a tear to the eye. Tempi are studied, his passage work and double-stopping technique impressively faultless, especially if you like that Eastern European roughness which, for some ears, can be brittle. He clearly loves Bruch's music, this is no mere "gig". Despite some crude sounds from the heavy brass, the orchestra and conductor serve him well and the acoustics are spaciously resonant, even if possibly added in post-production. If only because works other than Op.26 are featured, especially the beautiful Konzertstuck, Bruch would have approved.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, June 2006

Arguably the most popular of all the violin concertos, Bruch’s G minor was for several years voted as the audience top choice on the Classic FM ‘Hall of Fame’. Today I noted on the ‘’ website that it continues to head the list of the ‘Top 100 Classical Works’ based on data from UK performance and CD sales. This Naxos release incorporates two of Bruch’s less familiar scores for violin and orchestra; the Konzertstück and the Romance. The same forces recorded for Naxos the Scottish Fantasy Op. 46 and the Serenade Op. 75 in Moscow, in 2003, on 8.557395 (see review).

Today Bruch is universally known as the composer of the G minor concerto. It is generally forgotten that Bruch actually wrote three violin concertos and was, in his day, also famous for his large-scale choral works. Between 1870 and 1900 there were numerous performances of works such as the secular choral works: Odysseus, Op. 41; Das Feuerkreuz, Op. 52 and the cantatas Frithjof, Op.23 and Das Lied von der Glocke, Op. 45 earning for the composer a reputation that momentarily outshone that of Brahms. Much to the chagrin of the composer, the increasing popularity of the Concerto gradually overshadowed the vast majority of his other works. Today the two other scores of his that have remained in the modern repertoire are the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, Op. 46 and Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, Op. 47.

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 Die Loreley was performed in 1863, a work that 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, where 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, 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. Bruch retired in 1911 to devote himself to composition. He quickly became a victim of the new fashion as he was now essentially writing music in the manner of a bygone generation. Consequently the majority of his music swiftly moved into virtual obscurity. Bruch died in Berlin on 2 October 1920.

The Violin Concerto No. 1 is arguably the most popular in the repertoire. In 1865 Bruch had taken up his first official position as conductor in Koblenz and by then was already determined to tackle the concerto - a form that was new to him as a composer. Bruch embarked on the Violin Concerto in the summer of 1864 with the score taking four years to write. It cost him a great deal of effort causing considerable difficulty and he had to revise the score extensively. Eminent violinist Joseph Joachim gave the first performance of the work in its final and definitive form in January 1868 in Bremen. 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. Advice, not all of it acceptable, had come from Ferdinand David and also from the conductor Hermann Levi. In later years Bruch was anxious that the importance of such advice should not be exaggerated. He sold the G minor Concerto to the publisher August Cranz for 250 thalers, consequently losing the possibility of royalties; a matter of obvious later regret.

The First Violin 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 theme, already heard earlier in the movement. Both themes return in the concluding section. There is a distinct 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 scores to some extent reflect the influence of the Hungarian-born Joachim, to whom both works were dedicated.

In the first movement Vorspiel: Allegro moderato violinist Maxim Fedotov initially takes a deliberate approach and is rather tentative in the opening pages, gradually increasing the vigour and becoming more exhilarating. At point 00.31 Fedotov provides a strong focus to the lyrical Jewish sounding melody. Weightier rather than measured playing from Fedotov is especially noticeable between 02.06-02.25. A warm and relaxed mood is provided by Fedotov in the long melodic lines from 02.37-05.41. Noteworthy between points 06.18-06.47 and 07.47-08.33 is the wonderfully rich orchestral playing from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky. The short cadenzas at 06.57-07.20 and at 07.29-07.47 are marvellously performed by the stylish Fedotov.

In the beautiful central movement Adagio one cannot fail to be impressed by Fedotov’s playing which is strong, yet contains a tenderness that borders on the sensuous. The interpretation is never sentimental and Fedotov provides a genuine depth of passion with rapt concentration. His expressive playing, especially at 08.16-09.15 sends a shiver down the spine. Fedotov makes light work of the brilliant virtuoso passages in the development section of the Finale. Dmitry Yablonsky and his Russian players are in excellent form throughout, heard to their best effect in the delightful canonic interlude for orchestra. Throughout Fedotov displays a natural understanding of the music’s rhythmic impetus. His playing traverses a wide range of emotions, secure and spirited, passionate and moody. Yablonsky and the orchestra accompany the soloist admirably. In short this is a memorable account of a frequently recorded score, that can join the ranks of the very finest recordings.

There are a plethora of accounts of the G minor concerto and I have six in my personal collection. My favourite version is played by soloist Jaime Laredo, who directs the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, available from IMP Classics PCS 829 (c/w Mendelssohn Violin Concerto). Laredo’s special account is warm and extremely characterful, so full of joy and spontaneity. This recording, which has also been reissued on Regis RRC 1152, does not include any information about the date or venue of the recording.

For alluring playing that is full of personality and humanity I am a strong advocate of the version from Tasmin Little with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley. The recording, made in Liverpool in 1991, is available on EMI Classics for Pleasure 7243-5-74941-2-0 c/w the Brahms. Another favourite version was recorded in Leipzig, in 1977, by Salvatore Accardo with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur on Philips Duo 462 167-2. This is an interpretation that sees the stylish Accardo providing vital and characterful playing. The couplings on this well packed, all Bruch, Philips Duo set are the violin concertos 2 and 3, the Serenade, Op. 75 and the Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46. Primarily for his exquisite tone and thrilling playing the historic 1962 recording from Jascha Heifetz with the New Symphony Orchestra of London under Sir Malcolm Sargent on RCA 09026 61745-2, draws considerable approval from a large group of admirers (see review of re-release). The crammed RCA disc also includes the Scottish Fantasy and Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 5.

The Konzertstück, Op. 84, was 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 layout 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 Konzertstück (Concert Piece) seemed preferable. It was dedicated to Hess.

The first movement of the Konzertstück, 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 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, in A minor, of a projected second violin concerto. In the event he decided to leave it as a separate work of one movement – the A minor Romance - and the actual Second Violin Concerto was first heard in 1877 when Pablo Sarasate played it in London, while the Third Violin Concerto, expanded from an original single movement, was completed in 1891. As before, Bruch had taken advice from Joachim on the violin writing, and from Robert Heckmann, to whom the work was dedicated.

The A minor Romance, Op. 42, is introduced by wind chords and the solemn notes of a solo horn, before the entry of the soloist, marked 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.

Fedotov plays both the Konzertstück, Op. 26 and the Romance, Op. 42 with considerable assurance. He clearly knows the scores inside out and no nuance is missed or detail left untouched. There’s first class support from conductor and orchestra.

The booklet notes from Keith Anderson are as exemplary as we have come to expect and the recorded sound is of high quality. However at just over fifty minutes the total playing time is less than generous.

Naxos have uncovered a real gem in violinist Maxim Fedotov and I look forward to more of his recordings of late-Romantic répertoire.

An excellently performed and recorded release from Naxos that will provide considerable pleasure.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group