Believe it or not, Beethoven is not the only classical composer to have an anniversary in 2020!
While Arcana are spending a great deal of time examining and enjoying his output, we should definitely spare some moments to appreciate the gifts of Max Bruch, a gifted melodist who died 100 years ago today.
Born in 1838, Bruch is known chiefly for his works for violin and orchestra, in particular the Violin Concerto no.1 completed just before he turned 30. As is so often the case, however, if you look beneath the surface there are many more riches to be found.
Even at the age of 11 he was showing considerable talent in his Septet in E flat major, a work only discovered in 1981. The first violin concerto was followed by a first Symphony of three – attractive works which have just recently been released by Robert Trevino and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra on the CPO label, reviewed on this site. Full of attractive tunes and outdoorsy textures, they are very enjoyable works.
This is before we get to the works for solo instruments and orchestra, where Bruch is at his most consistently inventive. The imaginative combination of clarinet and viola work well in the Concerto in E minor (1911), while the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra from a year later has added steel from the two keyboard instruments. The shorter pieces for strings and orchestra are more directly moving, headed by the soulful Kol Nidrei for cello and the Romance for violin.
On a larger scale, Bruch’s Scottish Rhapsody, based on themes from James Johnson’s collection of folk songs The Scots Musical Museum, is a wonderful piece, full of positive energy, which leads us to the three violin concertos themselves. The Violin Concerto no.1 is rightly celebrated for its blend of romanticism and technical virtuosity, but the second and third are cut from a very similar cloth, reaching similar heights of expression and daring. A late Serenade for violin and orchestra, published in 1899, is also a fine piece.
Bruch is a figure who often dips beneath the radar in concert programming, and who suffers from over-exposure of his ‘flagship’ piece, but it is worth taking some time around his centenary to appreciate the body of his output. Happily there are some fine records to aid us in that quest!
Bruch’s symphonies can be heard in the most recent recording by Robert Trevino, while the violin concertos have all been recorded by Jack Liebeck and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins for Hyperion. You can visit their Bruch page to examine these and other attractive chamber pieces from the Nash Ensemble:
This Spotify playlist below celebrates some more highlights from the composer’s output: