GMCD 7338 – Music by Max Bruch
Alexandre da Costa (violin), Gilad Karni (viola), Orchestre Symphonique Bienne, Daniel Kobliansky (concert master), Thomas Rösner (conductor)
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.
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”’.
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.
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.