Bruch’s First Violin Concerto has so much overshadowed his other two that it is perhaps surprising so few violinists have wanted to look beyond that warhorse to its companions, especially as it was inspired and championed by no less a virtuoso than Sarasate. Despite that, it is not as virtuosic as the First, though it shares a not dissimilar structure with a brooding first movement—meant to evoke the tragic aftermath of the Carlist civil wars in 19th century Spain, as suggested to Bruch by Sarasate as a programme for the work—and a finale which gathers momentum with tremolo strings towards a lively and quirky main theme.
Jack Liebeck approaches the Concerto in a generally restrained manner, avoiding grandiloquence and turning it into something it is not. True there could be more sparkle in the finale’s theme, and the conclusion almost seems accidental, but in not racing ahead in tempo this movement maintains some sort of logical coherence and unity with the rest of the work, especially in growing out of the second movement ‘Recitativo’. Where Liebeck draws a warm tone for the latter, with something of Sarasate’s bravado stealing in with the horn-like feature of the violin’s first idea, in the first movement he plays sorrowfully, and is sympathetically supported by the hollow glow of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s playing under Martyn Brabbins. Salvatore Accardo’s recording of the work with the Leipzig Gewandhaus encompasses more physical presence with a modicum more passion and sweet-toned playing, but Liebeck’s ethereal interpretation is sure to beguile just as much, and complements Accardo’s classic account, rather than replaces it.
If anything, Liebeck’s playing exudes more character in the three independent pieces for violin and orchestra included in this edition of Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series (which has already covered Bruch’s First and Third Concertos with the same forces as here). The underrated Adagio Appasionato receives a beautifully undemonstrative performance, where the more unsettled minor-key middle section, and the odd sforzando and fortissimo barely register as disturbing the prevailing nostalgia of the piece. If Beethoven’s two Romances for violin and orchestra are more or less established in the violinist’s repertoire, there seems little reason for this work not to join them.
The Konzertstück might have been a fourth violin concerto, but Bruch never wrote a third movement for it. Liebeck and Brabbins set both this work and In Memoriam within a frame of composure and moderation, as realised in their choice of dynamics which do not veer to extremes, in Liebeck’s controlled and graceful playing, and in the warm integration of the orchestral texture. In the Konzertstück it is the Adagio second section which is the more urgent but is still executed elegantly by Liebeck; for In Memoriam Brabbins secures an Elgarian wistfulness from the BBCSO, even though Bruch wrote it without anybody or thing in mind. These finely crafted works hardly break new musical ground, but they receive sensitive readings, making for an enjoyable hour’s worth of listening.