Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26; Romance in F, Op. 85; String Quintet in A minor, Op. posth. (1918)

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COMPOSERS: Bruch
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26; Romance in F, Op. 85; String Quintet in A minor, Op. posth. (1918)
PERFORMER: Vadim Gluzman, Sandis ≤teinbergs (violin), Maxim Rysanov, Ilze Klava (viola), Reinis Birznieks (cello) ; Bergen PO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1852 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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In some recent recordings of Bruch’s First Concerto, violinists have tended to employ idiosyncratic phrasing and exaggerated tempo fluctuation as a means of imposing their own individuality on such a familiar work. Vadim Gluzman clearly has no truck with this approach since he presents a refreshingly straightforward performance that allows the music to speak for itself. The playing is indeed superb in every way, wonderfully lyrical in the soaring melodies of the slow movement, impassioned and dramatic in the opening Prelude and exuberant in the Finale. Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic are sterling accompanists, responding with subtlety to Gluzman’s nuanced phrasing and projecting great urgency in the big orchestral tutti at the end of the first movement.
 
Instead of the predictable coupling of the Mendelssohn Concerto, Gluzman provides a welcome alternative with two comparatively rare items. The Op. 85 Romance, originally composed for viola and orchestra, sounds particularly convincing in this violin transcription, with Gluzman once again delivering a warm performance. Even more interesting is the late String Quintet in A minor composed in the final year of the First World War. By this stage, Bruch was completely isolated from the musical mainstream, yet his anachronistic approach hardly matters when his invention is so fresh and engaging. Erik Levi