Serenade in F minor, Op.3
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Symphony No.1 in E flat, Op.28 [original version; first UK performance]
Jessica Chan (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Farr
Reviewed: 17 May, 2008
Venue: All Saints’ Church, Rosendale Road, Dulwich, London SE
Christopher Fifield and the Lambeth Orchestra regularly exhume forgotten compositions – symphonies by Rutland Boughton, Frederic Cliffe, Arthur Hinton, Edward German, Xaver Scharwenka, as well as a host of concertos and other works too numerous to list.
Max Bruch (1838-1920) is not forgotten, of course, his name kept alive through his Violin Concerto No.1. His First Symphony has long since gone out of fashion, though, so a performance – and the first UK performance of its original incarnation – enticed a trip to South-east London. Fifield, an authority on Bruch, and his Lambeth Orchestra have previously performed this symphony in its Revised Version (19 May 2001), but the conductor has uncovered an ‘Intermezzo’ that, at the 1868 premiere of the symphony, was placed after the first movement. Bruch immediately dropped the movement.
Curiously, the ‘Intermezzo’ (Andante con moto) is in the key of B major, a major third below the first movement’s E flat. Fifield’s informative programme note, in addition to relating how he discovered the ‘Intermezzo’, reminds us that Schubert and Bruckner used this device. He also goes into some detail of key relationships in Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony, surely an influence on Bruch. Another parallel he might have mentioned is Haydn’s Symphony No.99 where an Adagio sitting serenely in G major is followed by a Minuet emphatically in E flat – also a drop of a major third.
The ‘Intermezzo’ seems worth restoring to the score permanently even if Bruch himself had other ideas. The Lambeth Orchestra’s performance was rather better than its previous one: in particular, in what we now refer to as movements three and four (which in 1868 jointly formed the fourth movement ‘Grave und Allegro guerrico’) the playing was more assured, creating an exciting conclusion to the work and the evening. Apart from the addition of the ‘Intermezzo’, and the re-labelling of the last movements, the Original Version of the symphony is otherwise the one we know.
The concert had opened with another relative rarity: Leo Weiner’s Serenade, composed in 1906. As the title implies, this is music written to entertain. Its four short movements, seemingly so slight, disguise immense skill and it came as no surprise to read in Fifield’s notes that Georg Solti, one of Weiner’s pupils, valued him as a teacher ahead of Dohnányi, Kodály and Bartók.
In between, came Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Jessica Chan – with a little help from Grieg – soon broke down my resistance to this oft-heard work and I was marvelling at the fecundity of invention. The Lambeth Orchestra matched Chan with some of its best playing. She has won many prizes and has fleetness and power when needed; a first-rate performance.