Terry Robbins
The Whole Note, Canada
March 2016

Bruch wrote three works officially designated as violin concertos, but that wasn’t the full extent of his compositions in that form; both the Scottish Fantasy and the Serenade included here are four-movement works that are concertos in all but name. The former was coupled with the Violin Concerto No 3 on Volume 17 of this series in performances by the same personnel.

Bruch was constantly exasperated by the popularity of the G minor concerto at the expense of his other—and in his opinion, better—violin concertos, but it remains probably the most popular of all the Romantic violin concertos. It’s given a lovely performance here.

Bruch’s other violin concertos are much better served by recordings now than they used to be, but even if you do know the other two concertos and the Scottish Fantasy the chances are that the Serenade will be new to you; if so, you’re in for a real treat. It’s a lengthy work from 1899, when the composer was 61 but still had more than 20 years left in his life. Written for and at the prompting of the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, it’s a simply beautiful work by a mature composer in complete control of his craft; the third movement Notturno in particular is absolutely gorgeous.

The single-movement Romance dates from 1874, some six years after the first concerto, and was intended as the opening movement of what Bruch thought would be a second concerto. The booklet notes describe it as 'rather uneventful, although very beautiful,' the latter a word that regularly seems to crop up in discussions of Bruch’s music.

The noted English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey once said that 'it is not easy to write as beautifully as Max Bruch.' That’s quite true—and it’s not easy to play as beautifully as Jack Liebeck, either. Add the outstanding orchestral support and the lovely recorded sound and you have a supremely satisfying CD.