Max Bruch lived and worked in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and for most of that time he was generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in Germany at that time. Today, his name rings just two or three bells, his famous first violin concerto, his Scottish Fantasy
and his work for cello, Kol Nidrei
Similarly, Felix Mendelssohn was the pre-eminent composer of the first half of that century, a Renaissance man who wrote great music, almost invented the art of conducting, and single-handedly resurrected the music of Bach.
Both men left a legacy of great Romantic violin concertos. Bruch actually wrote three official concertos for the violin, as well as two other Fantasies for violin and orchestra. The entire set can be purchased here
, which includes the unjustly neglected and very lyrical third violin concerto.
But it is on his first that Bruch's reputation rests. In fact, today it is known as the Bruch Violin Concerto, as if that is the only one he wrote. It was his first large-scale orchestral work, first scetched out in 1857, but withdrawn by him because he was unsatisfied with it.
He sought suggestions from several violinists, most importantly Joseph Joachim, the Hungarian virtuoso. Bruch revised the concerto, and had its new premier in 1868, performed by and dedicated to Joachim.
It has become one of the most popular violin concertos of the nineteenth century. The impassioned first movement, the melancholic and nostalgic second movement, and the energetic, gypsy-themed finale (a reference to Joachim, no doubt) are typically Romantic in style.
Above all it is the beautifully melodic themes and the intricate violin writing that has made this concerto so popular to this day.
And most commonly, the Bruch is coupled with Mendelssohn's only violin concerto, similar in style and similarly beautiful in spirit.
Joshua Bell was just 18 when he recorded this set of concertos, and this was his first recording of full-scale works. He was a prodigy, and even at such a young age, he displayed the talents that have since made him very famous; his impeccable technique and his lyrical playing style. This was the CD that most obviously launched his career, well-known violin standards, played so freshly that it has become a required recording of these works.
If you are anything like me, you started off in classical music with the concert-hall standards - the symphonies and concertos. You then moved on to more esoteric works - string quartets, sonatas and the like. Sometimes we branch out into modern or distinctly difficult music. And the old standards get forgotten.
When you reach this stage in classical music listening, it comes as a great surprise to re-visit these large orchestral works. Have another go at Beethoven's Fifth, at Schubert's Great Symphony. And have a listen to the Violin Concertos of Bruch and Mendelssohn. They are old friends returning from a long trip abroad.
And with all that listening experience behind you, you will hear great new things in them. This is music that is beautiful and instantly likeable, but also passionate and resonating with depth. Comfort food for the soul.
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Academy of St Martin in the Field
Joshua Bell, Violin
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1, G Minor, Op. 26
- I Introduction - Allegro Moderato
- II Adagio
- III Finale: Allegro Energico
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, E Minor, Op. 64
- I Allegro Molto Appassionato
- II Andante
- III Allegretto Non Troppo - Allegro Molto Vivace