Reviews

GMCD 7338 – Music by Max Bruch

Alexandre da Costa (violin), Gilad Karni (viola), Orchestre Symphonique Bienne, Daniel Kobliansky (concert master), Thomas Rösner (conductor)

To the CD in the ShopVideo


Neue Zürcher Zeitung 19. November 2010

Bekannter und unbekannter Bruch
Was tut ein Orchester, das wie das Sinfonieorchester Biel, nicht zu den weltberühmten Klangkörpern zählt und trotzdem eine CD-Einspielung machen möchte? Thomas Rösner, seit 2005 Chefdirigent der Bieler, hat bekannte und unbekannte Kompositionen von Max Bruch ausgewählt und legt dabei sogar eine Ersteinspielung vor. Und das ausgerechnet mit dem berühmten “Kol Nidrei“. Doch das Werk erklingt in der Aufnahme nicht mit Cello-, sondern mit Violinsolo. Die Umarbeitung, die von Bruch selbst stammt, ist im ersten Moment etwas gewöhnungsbedürftig. Doch der 31-jährige Geiger Alexandre da Costa, der in Madrid bei Zakhar Bron studiert hat, spielt den Solopart derart sinnlich, dass man den Vorbehalt schnell vergisst. Und im allseits bekannten Violinkonzert in g-Moll streicht da Costa seine Qualitäten noch deutlicher heraus: makellose Technik, Empfindsamkeit und Temperament. Das Sinfonieorchester Biel begleitet auf einem beachtlichen Niveau und bringt die Charakterunterschiede der Sätze schön zur Geltung. Den unbekannten Bruch dokumentieren drei weitere Kompositionen. Gilad Karni, Solobratscher des Tonhalle-Orchesters Zürich, interpretiert die Romanze für Viola und Orchester op. 85 mit Wärme und grossem Ton. Die Serenade nach schwedischen Melodien von 1916 repräsentiert den späten Bruch. Dagegen erinnert die von Stefan Grové nach dem Klavierauszug instrumentierte Ouvertüre zu Oper “Scherz, List und Rache“ an Bruchs Anfänge.

Musical Opinion September 2010

This CD offers us not only another recording of the Bruch G minor Violin Concerto, but also the premiere recordings of Kol Nidrei arranged for violin rather than the usual cello (according to Bruch’s original sketches) and the overture to “Scherz, List and Rache” by Stefans Grové based on Bruch’s ideas. This is a smart move by the Guild label, in a market that is already saturated with recordings of the violin concerto.
This CD proves that when Bruch claimed that a recording of Kol Nidrei would work well on violin, fortunately he was right. Alexandre da Costa shines here as the soloist, and also in the violin concerto, navigating the trickier sections with ease and producing a ravishain tone in the slow movement. Gilad Karni matches up to this high standard as soloist in the undervalued romance for Viola, tackling the challenging middle section with great aplomb and producing a rich, telling tone throughout.
The sound of the Scherz, List and Rache  Overture jars slightly against the warmer strings of the other items with its double wind and brass, however the overall effect is representative of Bruch’s style and approach. The Serenade on Swedish Folk Melodies provides contrast in the form of orchestral min iatures against the larger works contained here. They give good insight into the composer’s approach and a wonderful backdrop for the more well-known works.
This is a very successful disc, enough to warrant purchase for those who already own a copy of the violin concerto, as well as being a great starting point for those less familiar with it.
Aliye Cornish


MusicWeb International Thursday August 19 2010

This is a fascinating disc, both in choice and execution of repertoire. It’s a pity that it ends with the one work hardly in need of another recording. In view of the clear intent to explore the byways of Bruch’s considerable output, why not the Romance Op.42 or In memoriam Op.65, as we have only Accardo’s fine pioneering versions coupled into the three symphonies on Philips, or the Adagio appassionato Op.57; Accardo again, but also Chloë Hanslip amongst a medley of shorter violin concerted works on Warner Classics. On the other hand the presence of the G minor concerto serves as a reminder, if one were needed, that it was Bruch’s greatest achievement, despite a generally, not wholly, stylish account from the Canadian violinist Alexandre de Costa. Bruch would have given a tongue-lashing to whoever insisted upon its inclusion as he felt he had other works of equal merit that the public should be given the chance to hear.
The disc starts with his arrangement of Kol Nidrei for violin. The problem is that listening to it, one is constantly reminded of the far better original cello version. Here the violin is persistently trying to sound like a cello when on the G string, while passages of much higher writing just do not convince. A safe compromise would be the viola version, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the cello is best suited to this wonderfully haunting and expressive music. The Romance for the viola has been beautifully recorded by Gérard Caussé (Warner Apex) but this is also a touching account by Gilad Karni, and one which inspires the Orchestre Symphonique Bienne to full-toned playing, with the harp judiciously placed to the fore … as it was in Kol Nidrei. The Serenade for Strings on Swedish Folk Songs is a charming late work, written when Bruch was in his late seventies, but there is a youthful spring in the step reflected by some witty passages as well as the simplicity of folk music. This is a work which should be heard more often in concerts for string orchestras. It makes a good opener and can withstand being followed by the greater string orchestral works of Dvorák, Tchaikovsky and Elgar. The strings here acquit themselves very well, taut and balanced ensemble, with stylish use of portamento in expressive phrases, particularly by the cellos.
Probably of greatest interest, however, is the overture to Bruch’s first opera, Scherz, List und Rache (‘Joke, Cunning and Revenge’), literally his first published work, Opus 1. All we have of this one-act Singspiel, its text adapted from the original Goethe by the music critic Ludwig Bischoff, is the piano score, but this is how it was first conceived as a salon opera in 1856. Two years later and under his teacher Ferdinand Hiller’s guidance, it had been orchestrated. Sadly any full score and parts were lost even in Bruch’s day. From Hiller’s diaries and Bruch’s recollections we know that the first salon performance occurred on 4 May 1856, and that on 28 February 1857 Hiller was supervising the scoring process. At that salon occasion it appears that Bruch sang the villain of the piece as well as being one of the two pianists required for the overture, after which Hiller continued alone at the keyboard. The plot is typical of the genre. A married couple is tricked of their inheritance (100 florins bequeathed from their old nursemaid), by an unscrupulous doctor and plot their revenge. Scapin, disguised as a beggar, enters the doctor’s service as an assistant. His wife Scapine comes asking for medical help of the doctor, who is in the act of counting his ill-gotten gains. From elsewhere in the house, Scapin creates a diversion with cries of help (‘Hilfe’, the notes F and H a cryptic clue to Ferdinand Hiller’s initials, the pupil calling to his teacher for help), and while the doctor is out of the room, Scapine substitutes an empty packet of arsenic for the medication prescribed by the doctor. Both men return to witness Scapine’s ‘death’. The doctor panics and offers Scapin 50 florins to dispose of her body in the cellar; once alone Scapine ‘revives’ and cries out, threatening to expose the doctor as a murderer unless she receives another 50 florins. The couple depart with their 100 florins regained, the doctor meanwhile bemoans his loss.
The scored work was first performed on 14 January 1858 at the City Theatre in Cologne, the city of his birth, and was probably its sole outing, after which the orchestral material disappeared. The orchestration for this recording has been made by Stefans Grové, South Africa’s most eminent composer, 88 this month. Grové has always prided himself on being able to orchestrate on paper. We will never know what Bruch did, unless by some miracle the music resurfaces, but on the whole the result here is both viable and satisfactory. One detail may have escaped Grové, or he deliberately ignored it. On page 9 of the piano duet’s printed score there is the one and only indication of an instrument in the overture – later there are others in the opera itself. The second subject melody in the upper part of the Primo part is quite clearly marked ‘clar.’, so why Grové opted for the oboe instead of the clarinet is a mystery, especially when, upon the return of that melody, he does give it to the clarinet. Apart from an excess of timpani and trombone, the result is a fair response to the challenge. In 1858, what would Bruch have been influenced by when writing his three-hander, one-act comedy? Most likely the answer would have been the one-act operas of Weber or the operas of Rossini. The opening Andante gives a clue to the latter with its Italian semi-quaver upbeat, rather than the ponderously dignified German ones we hear in Mozart’s overture to his Die Zauberflöte, and the tunes that follow have both Rossinian wit and Weber-style accompaniments. Bischoff described it as ‘freshly grown in German earth, [full of] melody, characterisation, movement and life, and rich in true musical comedy’. What he and his like were hoping for was a counterweight to Wagner – neither Mendelssohn nor Schumann had done so in the field of opera. Regrettably Bruch was also not up to the task. His Die Loreley (1863) had a limited shelf-life, while his setting of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale entitled Hermione (1870) fared even worse. The complete piano version of Bruch’s Op.1 made it to vinyl in 1983 (Capriccio C 30 034/1-2), with his Lieder und Gesänge Op.49 as a filler, and there the overture comes in thirty seconds faster than the orchestral version. On this CD Rösner keeps it all as light as possible, despite some exuberance from his brass section. In these days of shoe-string opera, the whole work might be resurrected, but it would require an English translation, and for practical reasons the overture would have to be reshaped for one piano rather than indulging the extravagance of two. It just goes to show what private salons were equipped with in the mid-19th century Germany, when it comes to the number of pianos they had.
This CD is good in parts, and there’s cause to be grateful to Guild in assembling an unusual collection, even though it does these works no service to be measured at the last hurdle against ‘that’ violin concerto. ‘Every fortnight another [violinist] comes to me wanting to play the first concerto’, the composer wrote on 26 November 1887. ‘“I cannot listen to it anymore. Did I perhaps write just this one? Go away and play the other concertos, which are just as good, if not better”’.
Christopher Fifield
Good in parts, and there’s cause to be grateful to Guild in assembling an unusual collection

Intenational Record Review April 2010

Bruch New Scherz, List und Rache, Op. 1 – Overture (orch. Stefans Grové). Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26ac. Kol Nidrei, Op. 47a. Romance, Op. 85b. Serenade an Swedish Folk Melodies, Op. posth. Alexandre da Costa (violin); Gilad Karni (viola); Orchestre Symphonique Bienne/ Thomas Rösner.
Guild GMCD7338 (full price, 1 hour 5 minutes). Website www.guildmusiccom Producers/ Engineers Michael Ponder, Johanne Goyette. Dates March 21 st, 2008, September 8th-10th, 2009.

The layout and choice of repertoire for this disc is not ideal. It’s good that a rclease is wholly given over to Max Bruch (1838-1920) and his underrated music, which should help underline the fact that there is much more to his Output than the G minor Violin Concerto; save that this much-recorded and oft-performed work is here included! The inclusion of one or other of the other violin concertos (two in number) or the large¬scale Serenade featuring the violin as solo Instrument, all of which hardly get a Look-in, would have made this release something more completely worthwhile in focusing an Bruch rarities (even the wonderful Scottish Fantasy, for violin and orchestra, now seems to fall into this category).
As it is, the Bruch Violin Concerto’, as it has become regrettably known in some quarters, is given a none-too-compelling Performance, which doesn’t mean it’s bad, rather it’s not special enough to justify the work’s umpteenth recording. It’s a super piece though, but even the greatest art can benefit from a moratorium. The soloist here is sometimes overwrought, an effect not helped by being balanced too closely, which emphasizes Alexandre da Costa’s essentially virtuoso playing. Play he certainly can, albeit with too much attack – it’s all a bit macho – and the balance rather dwarfs the tactile if grey-sounding accompaniment (this is not absolutely top-drawer orchestral playing) and denies the music its requisite hush and Innigkeit, most obviously at the beginning and during the slow movement. The finale at first seems well paced at a moderate tempo but becomes dogged, as if the Performers were overly concerned for the microphones and with da Costa seeming a little unsettled.
The Overture, written as a preface to a Singspiel, comes third an the disc rather than in the more likely firnt Position, where it would have been well placed, as it beginn with a flourish before developing the feel of a processional and continuing with a lively allegro. It’s a nice piece. Only the vocal score has survived, so Stefans Grove has orchestrated the Overture especially for this recording. He has done a fine and idiomatic job in his scoring. Opening the disc is Kol Nidrei, best known for Cello and orchestra, and here heard in Bruch’s version for violin, which is very successful and benefiting (now) from da Costa’s intensity.
The viola Romanre is utterly lovely, with Gilad Karni a persuasive advocate, while the five succinet and varied movements that comprisc the Serenade an Swedish Folk Melodien also make pleasing listening (did someone drop coins at 0’17”-0’18” in the second movement, track 5?). The recording here, without a soloist, finds the orchestra competing with too much reverberation.
A guarded recommendation, then, not for the lesser-known pieces, all of which make for worthwhile listening, but because this release could have gone further in helping us discover further examples of Max Bruch’s overlooked catalogue.
Colin Anderson


Musik & Theater 6.6.2010

Neuer Bruch aus Biel

«Scherz, List und Rache» hiess die erste Oper des 20-jährigen Max Bruch. Nur der Klavierauszug ist erhalten, der Südafrikaner Stefans Grové instrumentierte die Ouvertüre. Eine Ersteinspielung, ebenso wie die von Bruch selbst arrangierte Geigenfassung seines Cellostücks «Kol Nidrei». Lohnende Entdeckungen, wie auch die Bratschenromanze aus Bruchs späten Jahren.
Reinmar Wagner


Radiomagazin Mai 2010

AUSGEWOGEN
Das Bieler Sinfonie Orchester zeigt sich in Hochform und hat Werke von Max Bruch eingespielt. Es ehrt damit einen Komponisten, dessen Schaffen seit Lebzeiten im Schatten des OEuvres seines übermächtigen Freundes Brahms steht. Nebst dem berühmten g-Moll Violinkonzert entpuppt sich die selten gespielte Romanze für Bratsche als besondere Perle. Fazit: Eine ausgewogene Mischung von Altbekanntem und Neuentdecktem, hervorragend interpretiert.
Andre Scheurer, Radio Swlss Classic

Audiophile Audition Tuesday February 2nd 2010
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Bruch’s lyrical gifts are undeniable, and this disc presents us several aspects of his effusive personality.
BRUCH: Kol Nidrei for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47;  Romance for viola and Orchestra, Op. 85; Overture to “Scherz, List, und Rache,” Op. 1 (orch. Grove); Serenade on Swedish Folk Melodies; Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 – Alexandre da Costa, violin/Gilad Karni, viola/Orchestre Symphonique Bienne/Thomas Roesner – Guild GMCD 7338, 64:41 [Distr. by Albany] **** :
As “academic” as Max Bruch (1838-1920) often appears next to the more naturally fluent melodists Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, his lyrical gifts remain undeniable, and this disc, recorded in Switzerland in 2008 and 2009, presents us several aspects of his effusive personality.
The Kol Nidrei–usually for cello and orchestra–of 1880 exemplifies Bruch’s interest in ethnic sources for musical invention. A Jewish player in the Sternscher Gesangverein presented him the Hebrew melody, and Bruch made two versions: one for violin, which he assigned to Schievert. Montreal violinist Alexandre da Costa (b. 1979) plays the Kol Nidrei on a 1727 “Di Barbaro” Stradivarius with a sweetly burnished tone. The lesser knownRomance for Viola (1911) extends Bruch’s capacity for cantabile outpouring, the viola part rendered by Israeli Gilad Karni, who plays in the viola section of the New York Philharmonic.
Bruch set the music for Goethe’s singspiel Scherz, List und Rache in 1858; but as only the vocal score survived, composer Stefans Grove orchestrated the overture in a style similar to Mendelssohn and Italianate Schubert, for strings, tympani, double woodwind and brass. If there seem to be perky elements reminiscent from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, it may be no accident. The five-movement Serenade After Swedish Melodies dates from 1916, published posthumously. After a martial Allegro moderato, the Andante has the solemn grandeur of a Mendelssohn nocturnal procession. The contrapuntal Allegro projects a girth and dark hue that hint at Faure or youthful Sibelius, but never quite achieve their individualism. The singing Andante sostenuto could be mistook for Grieg without embarrassment. The last dance opens in the form of a martial round that trips lightly in pizzicato and fades away. The harmonies throughout are rooted in traditional tonal syntax, especially as Bruch rejected the modernist tendencies after Wagner and endemic to Schoenberg.
The familiar G Minor Violin Concerto (1868) dedicated to Joachim has had many excellent adherents, and certainly Mr. da Costa and conductor Roesner perform it with ardent enthusiasm and grace. Given the “novelty” aspect of the production, however, I must wonder they did not proffer the D Minor Concerto in its stead, rather than add yet another stone to an already towering monument.
Gary Lemco

Klassik com , 29.04.2010

Interpretation
Klangqualität
Repertoirewert
Booklet

Es gibt CDs, die machen einfach Freude. Das geht los bei ansprechender und vorbildlicher Cover- und Bookletgestaltung, geht weiter über die Werkzusammenstellung und endet auch nicht mit den Interpretationen. Die Summe der einzelnen Teile ist mehr – sie ist ein gelungenes Gesamtpaket.
Die Musik von Max Bruch ist sicher nicht jedermanns Geschmack – manch einer mag denken, Bruch war ein Akademiker in einer Zeit des musikalischen Umbruchs. Aber Bruch war weit mehr – ähnlich Camille Saint-Saëns war er eine Schlüsselfigur seiner Zeit, ein Komponist, der, als Zeitgenosse Wagners und Brahms’ beginnend, erst nach Max Reger oder Claude Debussy starb. Seine bekanntesten Kompositionen sind natürlich das Violinkonzert g-moll und ‘Kol Nidrei’ für Violoncello und Orchester. Und doch gewinnen diese beiden Werke auf der vorliegenden CD einen neuen, einen erweiternden Kontext. Gleich zu Beginn Kol Nidrei – doch was ist das? Nicht etwa in der bekannten Fassung mit Violoncello, sondern in Bruchs eigener Fassung mit Violine, in Weltersteinspielung. Das Werk erlangt einen anderen, ganz eigenen Charakter in der Fassung mit Violine, konzertant-virtuoser, aber nicht wirklich äußerlicher. Alexandre da Costa ist sicher ein guter Geiger, jeder Ton sitzt, und dass er für meinen Geschmack ein wenig zu viel Vibrato nutzt, ist eben vor allem Geschmackssache. Ich habe da auch Salvatore Accardos „Gesamteinspielung“ der Violinwerke für Philips im Ohr. – Der andere „Schlager“ des Programms ist naturgemäß das die CD schließende g-moll-Violinkonzert. Durch die In-Beziehung-Setzung zu ‘Kol Nidrei’ erlangt auch das Konzert eine zusätzliche Bedeutungsebene; hier gefällt mir Alexandre da Costa auch besser, man merkt, dass dies ein Repertoirestück ist, hier sitzt alles, das Vibrato hat das richtige Maß, das Orchester ist bestens ausbalanciert. Bruch wird hier Dvorák angenähert, was dem Werk gut tut, ihm gleichzeitig auch nicht die Eigenart nimmt.
Gilad Karni ist Solist in der ‘Romanze für Viola und Orchester’ op. 85; der Gewinner des Tertis-Violawettbewerbs ähnelt klanglich da Costa, so dass die ‘Romanze’ wie ein weiteres Gegenstück zu Kol Nidrei erscheint; die beiden Werke ergänzen einander und erweisen, was für ein großartiger Orchesterkomponist Max Bruch war. Dies erweist sich auch in der ‘Serenade über schwedische Volksmelodien’ – ja, auch hier, in einer Komposition für Streichorchester, die an Rudolf Volkmanns ‘Serenade’ und fern auch ein wenig an Dvorák gemahnt. Etwas problematischer als beim Violinkonzert scheint hier (und auch bei den anderen Werken) die Aufnahmeakustik – manche Nebenstimme erlangt überraschende Prominenz (bei ‘Kol Nidrei’ etwa die Harfe), Pizzicati sind von fast übertriebener Prägnanz. Und doch stellt sich immer wieder ein äußerst gelungener Gesamteindruck ein, ja vielleicht bewirken die kleinen „flaws“ sogar, dass das Gesamtergebnis lebensvoller wirkt.
Zuletzt eine zweite Weltpremiere – die Ouvertüre zu Bruchs Opus 1, dem Singspiel ‘Scherz, List und Rache’. 1982 war dieses Werk in der Kölner Oper in der Reihe „Oper am Klavier“ zu hören, passenderweise, nicht nur weil Bruch aus Köln stammte, sondern auch, weil die Partitur verloren ging. Der südafrikanische Komponist Stefans Grové (* 1922), Schüler u.a. von William Henry Bell und Erik Chisholm, hat auf Grundlage des Klavierauszuges eine Neuorchestrierung vorgelegt. Der Unterricht bei aus zwei aus Großbritannien stammenden Komponisten hat eindeutige ‚europäisierende‘ Spuren hinterlassen, äußerst angemessen für ein Frühwerk Bruchs. Chisholm war ein großer Stilist und Bell als ehemaliger Student der Royal Academy of Music bestens vertraut mit dem in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts in Europa herrschenden musikalischen Idiom. Grovés Orchestrierung ist charmant und elegant, sehr überzeugend im Gesamtergebnis, da stört es auch nicht, wenn ein paar Holzbläser in problematischen Momenten nicht ganz sauber sind. Das Gesamtpaket stimmt.
Dr. Jürgen Schaarwächter