WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in E flat; Symphony No. 2 in F minor; Symphony No. 3 in E
PERFORMER: Gürzenich Orchestra (Cologne PO)/James Conlon
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 55046 2 DDD
The Gürzenich Orchestra (who have now added Cologne Philharmonic to their name, making it rather long-winded but easier to place) was formed in 1888. Their present conductor, the American, James Conlon, holds the position of general music director to the city, the post that Max Bruch wanted so badly (Cologne was his mother city) but never attained. He was court composer/conductor at Sondershausen when his first two symphonies appeared in 1868 and 1870; the Third was a commission from the Symphony Society of New York in 1882.
They are all tuneful works reminiscent of Mendelssohn or Schumann, but I’ve always felt tempted to make a careful selection of the best four movements from these three symphonies in order that one fine symphony might result. In other words, each work has its weaknesses. Like so many middle-rank composers, Bruch tends to fall at the last fence by running out of ideas in his finales. Nevertheless, Conlon serves him well and the orchestra plays magnificently, particularly in the boisterous Scherzo of the Third Symphony and the lyrical slow movement of the Second with its prominent alto-register instruments: clarinet, horn and viola. Whatever criticism one levels at Bruch, his ability to produce a fine melody cannot be faulted. Christopher Fifield