Hyperion continues its invaluable vocation on behalf of Max Bruch’s music with this generous and varied collection. The C-minor String Quartet (1856) is a splendid piece, passionate and lyrical; and with Beethovenian aspects, not least the gravitas-filled opening. The work is a strong outpouring of emotion and beauty, delivered intensely by the Goldner String Quartet in a recording that places the listener gratifyingly close to the action. The first-movement’s development is wildly fugal; the Adagio is an eloquent and confiding ‘song without words’; the Scherzo is spirited and its Trio delightfully rustic; and the Finale is vigorous and romantic, foot-tapping and shoulder-swaying.
The disc closes with the Piano Quintet, which took Bruch an age to finish. In 1881 he promised such a work to Liverpool Philharmonic colleagues (Bruch was the Philharmonic’s conductor at this point) but he only finished it in 1888 (when he wasn’t) after a letter from the intended musicians was sent to the composer hoping that completion would be soon. Bruch rallied, although publication was to happen only a century later, in 1988!
The Piano Quintet is a compact creation full of charming ideas and with no suggestion that Bruch had lost interest in the work. It is agreeably light in tone, rather Mendelssohnian in places, especially a yearning refrain in the first movement, and is expertly crafted throughout, not least in terms of carefully balancing the pianoforte with the four string instruments. It’s an example of a composer in full bloom and totally confident as an ideas man and how to lay them out in a satisfying design. The Adagio contrasts shadows with an increase in ardour. The Scherzo is a quick-paced and nimble affair, as sparkling as it is robust, with the Trio moving into dreamier realms, and this very engaging work ends with a dynamic Finale, impulsive in the Schumann mould. Piers Lane is typically authoritative and accommodating – he and the Goldner Quartet are seasoned collaborators – and the performance is a joy.
At the disc’s centre is the Swedish Dances (in case you are wondering, Bruch was German, born in Cologne), fifteen of them, in which the Goldner’s leader Dene Olding and Lane make a charismatic duo for some rustic revelry and terpsichorean tenderness (Elgar could have written the heartfelt No.6).
With excellent sound quality, Tully Potter’s informative booklet note and some truly fine music, this is a release recommended without reservation.