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ClassicsOnline Home » BRUCH, M.: Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 (Fedotov, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)
While Max Bruch’s first violin concerto is one of the most popular in the repertoire, his other
two remain relatively unknown. The second, dedicated to the virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, opens
with a rhapsodic Adagio brimming with sublime melodies, its declamatory middle movement
leading to a rhythmic finale. In contrast, the third, from 1891, launches heroically, the soloist
taking centre-stage in the lyrical Adagio middle movement, a perpetuum mobile rondo finale
capping the work. Maxim Fedotov’s recording of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 can be heard
on Naxos 8.557689. His recording of the Scottish Fantasy is available on href="/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=8.557395">8.557395.
By David Denton
Max Bruch (1838–1920)
Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 3
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 Stern’scher 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 Orchesterverein 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.
With his famous Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, Bruch, in 1864, embarked on a genre that was new to him, couched in an unusual form and dedicated to Joseph Joachim, who gave the first performance in 1868. By 1874 he 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 Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44, was first heard in 1877 when Pablo Sarasate played it in London. The new concerto was written with Sarasate in mind. Bruch had been impressed by Sarasate’s playing and particularly by his performances of the earlier concerto, which he made part of his concert repertoire and performed with Bruch, who made his first appearance in England in October 1877 with Sarasate and the increasingly popular first concerto. It was at the Crystal Palace in London that, in early November, Sarasate gave the first performance of Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, with Bruch again conducting, on his return from his first engagement in Liverpool. It was possible, after this, for Bruch to take advice for any revisions to the work, in consultation with the violinists Sarasate, Joachim and Robert Heckmann, before its publication by Simrock.
The new concerto was unusual in its dramatic form. It seems that Sarasate had suggested a programme, opening with a scene from the Spanish Carlist Wars, a battlefield where the dead and wounded lie, after the combat. A woman seeks her lover and there is a funeral march and a burial. Cast as an Adagio, a choice that brought criticism from some, notably the somewhat abrasive Brahms, the movement contrasts the principal theme of the opening and a more lyrical secondary theme heard first in F major and, finally, in recapitulation in D major. The shades of war and death intervene, but all ends in serenity. The second movement is in the form of a Recitative, proposed by the solo violin after the brief orchestral introduction. The dying fall of the horn, with which the movement ends, is
taken up in the rapid Finale, which is said to depict the cavalry. The movement begins in B flat, the key of the second movement, modulating to D major in music that offers further opportunities for technical agility and is impelled forward to a brilliant conclusion. Bruch himself was particularly pleased with the first movement and had to be persuaded by Sarasate not to present the Adagio as a separate composition.
Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 58, expanded from an original single movement, was completed in 1891. Here Bruch took advice on the violin writing from Joachim, to whom the work was dedicated. Joachim, with whom there had been earlier coldness during the latter’s divorce—Joachim’s wife, the singer, Amalie Joachim, had the support of a number of friends of the couple and had often performed in concerts with Bruch—arranged rehearsals at the Berlin Hochschule and was the soloist at the first public performance, given in Düsseldorf in May 1891. The concerto was thereafter regularly included in Joachim’s concerts. Bruch seems to have preferred Sarasate’s playing, but had personal reservations about both violinists. The first movement, marked Allegro energico and more conventional in form than either of the opening movements of the earlier concertos, starts with an orchestral exposition, the
strongly marked first subject leading to a more lyrical second, before the entry of the soloist with a flourish, followed by an emphatic statement of the first theme, linked to the soloist’s statement of the subsidiary theme, first in octaves and then on the lowest string of the violin, before proceeding to a lyrical A major. The thematic material is developed, making full use of the resources of the solo violin in characteristic concerto figuration. The second movement, a B flat major Adagio, is introduced by the soloist, the orchestra following with a full statement of the principal theme, which the soloist then takes up, going on to offer material derived from it, with varied figuration, in music that brings a mood of gentle tranquillity, after the demands of the Allegro energico. The concerto ends with a Rondo, its D minor triplet principal theme accompanied by the strongly accented rhythms of the orchestra and of a continuing passage in D major. The first episode, in F major, calls for double stopping. The main theme returns, followed by a further episode of virtuoso display, before the return of the theme in the orchestra. The movement proceeds to a triumphant conclusion, ending a technically demanding work that deserves more attention than it now generally receives.
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