Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1; Violin Concerto No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Bruch
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Violin Concerto No.1; Violin Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Isabelle van Keulen (violin); Bamberg SO/Gilbert Varga
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6522-2
Well it makes a change to hear something other than Bruch’s G minor Violin Concerto. But it is easy to understand why No. 3 in D minor, composed in 1891, 23 years after its illustrious predecessor (there was another D minor concerto, Op. 44, in 1878) has like most of his music failed to take hold in the repertoire. It is not that it is a bad work. Far from it. It radiates a Romantic warmth and beauty, with Bruch deftly spinning a wonderful, often wistfully poignant singing line for the soloist in his first two movements and pulling out the dancing pyrotechnics for the finale. As far as reputation is concerned, however, the problem is that in the end the piece does nothing very different from the G minor work. Bruch was nothing if not a conservative, and once formed, his post-Schumann language stayed the same even into the 20th century. A violin concerto was a violin concerto was a violin concerto. To say that only the tunes are different is only to exaggerate a valid point.

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Isabelle van Keulen plays both the known and the unknown with sureness and freshness, and with a lovely, well-varied tone. She invests each work with the equal commitment it deserves, so that the G minor does not seem hackneyed, nor the D minor merely worthy. And under Gilbert Varga the Bamberg Symphony shows itself the deftest of accompanists – I like the honesty of its sound, the chocolate-like timbres of its brass and woodwind sections. The benchmark for the G minor – despite strong rivalry – is the youthful Joshua Bell’s reading with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, made in 1988. This account holds its own beside it, however. Stephen Pettitt