BRUCH: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 / Serenade, Op. 75 (Dmitry Yablonsky/ Lubov Doronina/ Maxim Fedotov/ Russian Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.557395)
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Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 Serenade, Op. 75
Today Max Bruch is generally known only as thecomposer of works for the violin. In addition to theViolin Concerto in G minor, the popularity of whichcontinues, and, to the annoyance of the composer,eventually overshadowed much of his other work, wehear from time to time the Scottish Fantasy and theSecond Violin Concerto. The fact that Bruch, in his day,was famous for his large-scale choral works isforgotten. Between 1870 and 1900 there were numerousperformances of works such as Odysseus, Frithjof orDas Lied von der Glocke, earning for the composer areputation that momentarily outshone that of Brahms.
Max Bruch was born in Cologne on 6th January,1838, in the same year as Bizet. He studied there withFerdinand Hiller and Carl Reinecke. Extended journeysat home and abroad as a student were followed by alonger stay in Mannheim, where his opera Loreley wasperformed in 1863, a work based on a libretto by Geibeland originally dedicated to Mendelssohn, whichbrought him to the attention of a wider public. Bruch'sfirst official appointments were as Kapellmeister, firstin Koblenz from 1865 to 67, and then in Sondershausenuntil 1870, followed by a longer stay in Berlin and aperiod from 1873 to 1878 in Bonn, when he dedicatedhimself to composition. After a short time as director ofthe Sternscher Sangverein in Berlin, in 1880 he wasappointed conductor of the Liverpool PhilharmonicOrchestra, where he succeeded Julius Benedict, leavingEngland in 1883 to become director of theOrchesterverein in Breslau. In 1891 he moved finally toBerlin and took over master-classes in composition,Respighi being one of his pupils. He retired in 1911 todevote himself to composition, although nowessentially writing in a traditional style that seemed tohave passed. He died in Berlin on 2nd October, 1920.
Bruch wrote his Scottish Fantasy in 1880 for theviolinist Pablo Sarasate, who gave the first performancein September of the same year. For his thematicmaterial he drew on an anthology of six hundredScottish folk-songs, The Scots Musical Museum,published by the Edinburgh music engraver JamesJohnson in six volumes between 1787 and 1803, thelater volumes with the collaboration of Robert Burns.
The collection was influential, although the rivalcollector George Thomson had little good to say of it,describing it as 'an omnium gatherum in six volumes,containing a number of tawdry songs which I should beashamed to publish . . . as much a book for topers as forpiano players'. Thomson, who also had the benefit ofcollaboration with Burns, had dealings with Haydn,Beethoven and others, in the commissioning ofarrangements of the tunes collected.
The Fantasy starts with a solemn Introduction in Eflat minor, to which the soloist adds rhapsodiccomment. The first movement, marked Adagiocantabile, follows without a break, making use of thesong Old Robin Morris, the harp, a necessary bardicconcomitant, making its extensive appearance. Thesoloist states the melody with double-stopping, formingthe substance of the movement. The second movement,an Allegro, is a dance, using the melody The DustyMiller, heard, after the orchestral introduction, from thesoloist, again in double-stopping, over a characteristicdrone. The solo violin enjoys opportunities for virtuosodisplay in the treatment of the material, and there is abrief reminiscence of the first movement, before thesoloist leads the way into the third movement, based onI'm a-doun for lack of Johnnie, material later developedas the violin adds a varied treatment over the themeheard first from the French horn. The Fantasy ends witha movement marked Allegro guerriero, an appropriatedirection for a commemoration of Bannockburn withthe tune Scots wha hae. Earlier tunes are recalled,framed by the principal melody.
Bruch's Serenade in A minor, Op.75, for violin andorchestra was written in 1900, and demonstrates thecomposer's command of writing for the solo violin, inwhich he had once had the help of his friend andcolleague Joseph Joachim. It is introduced by mutedfirst violins, and answered by clarinets and bassoonbefore the entry of the soloist, with a fuller form of themelody suggested by the opening motif. Livelier newmaterial is introduced by the orchestra, as the musicunfolds, leading to a central section, included in therecapitulation with which the movement ends. The Cmajor second movement opens with the bassoonssetting the jaunty march rhythm in which thewoodwind, the brass and then the whole orchestra join.
This is interrupted by a gentler element, in a sectionmarked un poco meno vivo, followed by the brief returnof the opening theme. A G major Animato sectionallows a display of double stopping from the tripletfiguration of the soloist, after which the main theme isheard again, leading to a reminiscence of the earlier unpoco meno vivo. A further episode intervenes before theemphatic return of the opening theme, a reminiscence ofthe secondary theme, and a cadenza-like passage. Thereis a short introduction to the third movement Notturno,an evening hymn, with its tranquil E major violinmelody. Other thematic elements are introduced beforethe return of the principal theme, accompanied by theembellishments of the soloist. The vigorous finalmovement is dominated by the energetic principaltheme in which the soloist soon joins, but the wholework ends with a nostalgic return to the serene mood ofthe opening of the Serenade, a work over which thespirits of Schumann and Mendelssohn often seem topreside, with the return of the principal theme of thefirst movement.Keith Anderson