Concerto for Two Pianos in A flat minor; Suite No. 1 on Russian Themes
Mona & Rica Bard (pianos); Staatskapelle Halle/Araine Matiakh
Capriccio C5420 47:01 mins
This fine disc presents two Bruch rarities, composed towards the end of his life, both of which started out in other guises. The five-movement Suite on Russian Themes is an adaptation (with new material added) of his Songs and Dances Op. 79, originally for violin and piano. It is remarkable (even for a composer in his mid-60s) that music of such Mendelssohnian deftness and sparkle could have emerged during the first decade of the last century. But putting aside issues of chronology, those who delight in the charming rusticity of, say, the Scottish Fantasy, should find these well-crafted miniatures enchanting.
The Double Piano Concerto (still a rare genre, of which Mendelssohn provided two early examples) was written for the American Sutro sisters just over a decade later. The composer had hit on hard times and desperately short of cash agreed to write something for them. Feeling disinclined to produce anything new for an instrument he considered little more than a ‘toy’, Bruch adapted his existing Third Orchestral Suite for organ and orchestra, insisting the concerto version be performed only in America. If the Labèque Sisters (Philips/Decca) play this engaging score with irresistible flair and brio, Mona and Rica Bard are more poetically thoughtful, which works especially well in the opening Andante sostenuto.