“Bruch’s Violin Concerto”. How often this short-hand description passes nowadays when ‘selling’ yet another performance of this very fine if exhausted piece, by which I mean Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor. Whether in calculated denial or through regrettable ignorance it seems not to matter to some people (whether vendors or buyers) that Max Bruch (1838-1920) wrote rather a lot of damn good music for violin and orchestra: three Concertos, Scottish Fantasy, a large-scale four-movement Serenade and several short pieces.
With this recording of Violin Concerto No.3, written for Joseph Joachim, it is difficult to understand its neglect. The opening movement storms into action immediately, a thoroughly arresting drama unfolds through impassioned orchestral writing that becomes the perfect foil for the incoming violinist, here Jack Liebeck. He thoroughly enjoys the technical fireworks (and has completely mastered them), the intense and tender lyricism, and the composer’s generous gestures. It’s a big piece, close on forty minutes here, and full of good and ingenious ideas, not least in the ambitious (18-minute) first movement, which Bruch fills admirably and assuredly with some tasty invention, as well as excitement and beauty. The Adagio that follows has an Elgarian wistfulness – really quite lovely, and moreish – and the finale a powerful drive, to which add a vivid and beguiling sense of narrative.
The wonderful Scottish Fantasy, composed for Sarasate, finds Bruch making much hay with indigenous melodies and his own imaginative craftsmanship. Suffice to say that this wonderful piece, full of seduction and skirling, receives an equally wonderful reading, given with love and aplomb, expansively too in the slow music, here made richly expressive, during which the BBCSSO’s strings have an entrancing sheen and the woodwind contributions are poetic.
Jack Liebeck’s playing throughout is of the highest order, technically immaculate, full of shape and shading, and with much feeling supplemented by a range of tone and dynamics that invests much into music that deserves far greater currency, although at least the Scottish Fantasy still makes it occasionally into concert and (other) recording schedules.
With full support from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins (he also conducts Chloë Hanslip’s version of Violin Concerto No.3, with the LSO on Warner Classics), excellent sound, and a robustly informative booklet note from Tully Potter, this is a top-drawer release, absolutely enlightening in terms of the Concerto and quite one of the best versions of the Fantasy.
We don’t really need another recording of the First Violin Concerto, but if Jack Liebeck were to make it, I could be proved wrong and would be delighted to be so. More than that, what would be truly mouth-watering is if he could now give us Concerto No.2 and the Serenade. Here’s hoping!