Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Classics: From brooding depths to sparkling heights -- Bruch's G minor Violin Concerto


Itzhak Perlman plays the opening Prelude (Allegro moderato) of the Bruch G minor Violin Concerto, with Kazuyoshi Akiyama conducting the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.

by Ken

In Friday night's "Max Bruch preview" we heard the composer's Kol Nidrei, an "Adagio based on a Hebrew melody," which I described as his second-best-known work. "The best-known," I write, "surely is his G minor Violin Concerto," noting that we would be listening to it today.

An obvious point of reference for what used to be known as "the Bruch Violin Concerto" but now has to be called "the Bruch First Violin Concerto" because there are two more (both craftsmanlike works but neither with anything like the irresistible appeal of the first), is the Sibelius D minor Violin Concerto, which is also through much of its way darkly brooding, then bursts out into a more animated finale. The Sibelius Concerto, though (which we heard in the November 2009 post "An intrepid voice from the rugged North -- Jan Sibelius"), was written 35-plus years later.

Note that in our movement-by-movement breakdown, as this program note from Wikipedia notes, we're violating the composer's design by splitting the first two movements, which were meant to run consecutively, "connected by a single low note from the first violins." As usual, I've tried to pair performances that offer some notable contrast.

BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26:
i. Prelude: Allegro moderato

The first movement is unusual in that it is a Vorspiel, a prelude, to the second movement and is directly linked to it. The impression it gives towards listeners is almost like a smooth army march, yet an anticipatory feeling prevails throughout. The piece starts off slowly, with the melody first taken by the flutes, and then the solo violin becomes audible with a short cadenza. This repeats again, serving as an introduction to the main portion of the movement, which contains a strong first theme and a very melodic, and generally slower, second theme. The movement ends as it began, with the two short cadenzas more virtuosic than before, and the orchestra's final tutti flows into the second movement, connected by a single low note from the first violins.

Jascha Heifetz, violin; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded May 14 and 16, 1962

Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Philharmonia Orchestra, Walter Susskind, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 12, 1956

ii. Adagio
The slow second movement is often adored for its powerful melody, and is generally considered to be the heart of the concerto. The rich, expansive themes, presented by the violin, are underscored by a constantly moving orchestra part, keeping the movement alive and helping it flow from one part to the next.

Arthur Grumiaux, violin; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. Philips, recorded Sept. 20-23, 1973

Pinchas Zukerman, violin; Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 5, 1977

iii. Finale: Allegro energico
The third movement, the finale, opens with an extremely intense, yet quiet, orchestral introduction that yields to the soloist's statement of the exuberant theme in brilliant double stops. It is very much like a dance that moves at a comfortably fast and energetic tempo. The second subject is a fine example of Romantic lyricism, a slower melody which cuts into the movement several times, before the dance theme returns with its fireworks. The piece ends with a huge accelerando, leading to a fiery finish that gets higher as it gets faster and louder and eventually concludes with two short, yet grand, chords.

Isaac Stern, violin; Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded 1966

Josef Suk, violin; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel AnĨerl, cond. Supraphon, recorded Sept. 11-12, 1963


BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26:
i. Prelude: Allegro moderato
ii. Adagio
iii. Finale: Allegro energico

Nathan Milstein, violin; New York Philharmonic, John Barbirolli, cond. American Columbia, recorded Apr. 12, 1942 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)



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