Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 - Gluzman / Litton

Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 - Gluzman / Litton


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid


Max Bruch:
Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 26
Romance in F major, Op.85 (orig. for viola and orchestra)
String Quintet in A minor, Op posth.

Vadim Gluzman (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton (conductor)

Throughout his 82-year life, Max Bruch remained true to the musical ideals of his youth, formed by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and German folk songs. As a result, the same composer who in the 1880’s was regarded as Brahms’ equal, by the time of his death in 1920 was considered an anachronistic irrelevance. Nowadays, however, few would deny that his production includes numerous works of exquisite sonority, beautiful melodiousness and admirable formal cohesion: a glorious irrelevance indeed.

His Violin Concerto No. 1 was a spectacular success from its first performance in 1868, and soon won over audiences both in Germany and abroad. In fact, it became so popular that Bruch in later years became increasingly worried about being considered a ‘one-hit wonder’. It is thus a staple of all violin soloists that Vadim Gluzman here takes on, after his recordings of the concertos by Tchaikovsky (‘without doubt one of the work's finest recordings in recent years’, BBC Music Magazine), Barber (‘one of the most beautiful and characterful recordings of this work’, and Korngold (‘Gluzman’s playing lends the work a new vitality and cohesion’, Classica).

Supported by the eminent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and its music director Andrew Litton, Gluzman couples the work with a rarity, a violin version of the Romance in F major, Op.85, composed by Bruch for viola and orchestra almost 35 years after the violin concerto. The composer also made an arrangement for violin and piano, and it is this violin part which Gluzman performs to the original orchestral score. Closing the programme is the String Quintet in A minor in which Gluzman is joined by four eminent string players: Sandis Šteinbergs, Maxim Rysanov, Ilze Klava and Reinis Birznieks. Composed in 1918, the Quintet certainly offers no indication of being the exact contemporary of modernist works such as Stravinsky’s Histoire d’un soldat; on the other hand its almost youthful energy, dramatic instinct and playful exuberance equally belies the fact that it was composed by a man in his eightieth year.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - May 26, 2011

What a pleasure it is to sit and listen to an old warhorse of a concerto reawaken the emotions as it did at one's first hearing. Of course, every great and not-so-great violinist has recorded Bruch's early masterpiece, with varying degrees of self-absorption and personalization of Bruch's trenchant score. Gluzman is here remarkably self-effacing, giving a reading which is all about Bruch's youthful fire and passion, totally convincing one that this is a great masterpiece of late Romanticism. In this clean and powerful reading, the soloist is enthusiastically joined by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Litton, who have now gained an obvious rapport. Their sympathetic orchestral support revealed a number of details in the scoring which I had hardly noticed before.

There are few noticeable idiosyncrasies from Gluzman (an early one being the reversing of Bruch's instruction of decrescendo to pianissimo at the end of the second solo entry in the first movement, thus producing a crescendo), and in the glorious slow movement he conspicuously keeps the flow going, refraining from wallowing in sentimentality or dragging with excessive rubato which becalms some performances. The finale positively fizzes with rhythmic energy and confidence, sweeping the listener along to its brilliant and fiery conclusion.

After this cogent and heady concerto, one can catch breath with Bruch's not often interred Romance in F Op.85. This began life in 1911 with the viola as solo, and Bruch follows Beethoven's own invention of the form. Bruch himself made a violin version, which was published with a piano accompaniment. Schott's score of this is clearly entitled "Romanze für Violine mit Orchester" and lists the availability of a full score and orchestral parts. There is thus little doubt that playing the violin part with the existing orchestral score, as Gluzman does here, was what Bruch intended as an alternative. It is a piece of fragile lyric beauty. It is much more than a mere bon-bon filling for the Violin Concerto on disc, especially as it is played so affectionately, but without undue sentimentality.

The final piece on this programme is a real find. Bruch's String Quintet in A minor was long thought to be lost, but in 1988 a copy by Bruch's daughter-in-law Gertrude Bruch was found in the BBC Music Library. It proves to be a masterly work, in no way reflecting Bruch's age and disgruntled opinion of the state of music at the time. String Quintets are rather rare items in the chamber music world, and one of this quality deserves attention. Schubert preferred adding a second cello to his string quartet, while Bruch goes along with Mozart in adding another viola, giving the work great inner warmth.

Gluzman's quintet players comprise violists Maxim Rysanov and Ilze Klava, second violin Sandis Steinbergs and cellist Reinis Birznieks. They play as a well-honed ensemble, and their sound is wonderfully enriched by the presence of Guzman's Stradivarius and two Guadignini instruments. The compelling performance of the A minor Quintet now only demonstrates Bruch's stature as a composer, but also Guzman's dedicated versatility.

BIS engineers have produced another natural concert perspective from the Grieg Hall in Bergen for the two orchestral pieces. Gluzman's violin has the same hall bloom as the orchestra, and its sonic image is of normal size, indicating well-judged balancing. The timbre of the venerable Strad is picked up so well that every string imparts its own character, and as Gluzman turns his body while playing, we can hear subtle changes in perspective and tone quality. A few soft sniffs and some podium stamping represents the musician at work. For the quintet, the engineers went to the Orangerie at Schloss Nordkirchen in Westphalia, whose well-controlled ambience gives the quintet almost the presence of a chamber orchestra. Once more the individual qualities of the ensemble's fine instruments are evident, greatly enhancing the listening experience. Without doubt, this is technically one of the best recordings that the Bruch G minor Concerto has received.

Gluzman's inspired programme is a fine reminder that Max Bruch was very much more than a one-horse composer. Horst Scholz's excellent booklet essay reminds us how disastrously the overwhelming popularity of the First Concerto affected Bruch's career. The composer may not have swallowed the bitter pills of the 'new' music as did his peers Stravinsky, Schönberg and Satie, but was true to himself throughout, as the A minor Quintet so eloquently demonstrates.

No matter how many Bruch concerto recordings you may own, this one is a collector's prize item.

Copyright © 2011 John Miller and


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