I think it's fairly safe to say that Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No 1 must be one of the more popular violin concertos in the repertoire, and yet he also wrote two others that are much less frequently performed. Thanks to Hyperion's extensive Romantic Violin Concerto series, violinist Jack Liebeck has already recorded Nos 1 and 3 in previous years, and now he completes the trilogy with a recording out next week of the Second Concerto, reunited with his accompanists from previous instalments, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins.
Stylistically the second concerto is very much, to my ears at least, of a piece with the first (for example, the opening movement in places borrows the distinctive rhythm from the last movement of the First concerto). It is perhaps slightly unusual structurally in that it begins with an extended Adagio movement rather than a more traditional Allegro. The piece was written for the great virtuoso Sarasate, and although it is not explicitly programmatic as such, it is thought that Sarasate did suggest an outline of a scenario to Bruch, with this mournful opening movement intended to represent a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded soldiers. It's a tricky thing to be able to sustain this mood successfully over such a long span, but Brabbins and Liebeck pull it off with no problems.
It's not really until the last movement that the pyrotechnics pick up, and the more traditionally dazzling virtuoso passages that you might expect from such a concerto start to kick in. Liebeck is certainly equal to all the challenges, moving from impeccable double-stopping one moment to the sweetest, most ardent of tones in some of the more impassioned passages. His playing is immaculate in every single bar, and he brings the concerto to a highly impressive conclusion.
Also on the disc are three extra pieces for violin and orchestra. The two-movement Konzertstück is a delight, especially the second movement, where again Liebeck brings tender tone to his beautiful phrasing, reducing his sound right down to a whisper where necessary. Brabbins and the orchestra are never less than extremely supportive partners, nowhere more so than in the extended elegy, In Memoriam, where a stirring orchestral introduction gives way to a mournful violin solo. There are also some impressively controlled distant horn calls from the principal horn.
Finally there is perhaps my favourite piece on the disc, the Adagio appasionato, and the last couple of minutes are exquisite indeed. With these three pieces all being fairly long, and generally similar in tempo and mood, the capacity was very much there for interest levels to begin to sag, but Liebeck's range of tone and committed, ardent performance ensures that this never happens.
It's great to have these on the disc, partly as that means that the three discs in the series between them cover not only the three concertos and the Scottish Fantasy but also Bruch's entire compositional output for violin and orchestra. I've included links to the older two discs as well just in case you want to pick them up and explore beyond the famous First Concerto!