Album review: Bruch, Violin Concertos and Fitzenhagen, Cello Concertos

By William Dart


Hyperion Records continues to excavate the forgotten and often minor gems of the 19th century in its various Romantic Concerto series.

While piano enthusiasts can notch up 67 CDs - the most recent featuring the obscure Polish composer Ludomir Rozycki (1883-1953) - violin and cello fans are not so generously served.

The Romantic Violin Concerto has made it to Volume 19 with the second of three CDs devoted to Max Bruch. Soloist Jack Liebeck last played in Auckland town hall three years ago and, here on disc, he joins the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins. His is as fine an account of Bruch's perhaps over-familiar G minor Concerto as one could want, with a heart-melting Adagio and a Finale that puts solid musical punch before flashy fire-raising.

The composer's 1899 four-movement Serenade is the reward here for those who favour the byways of the repertoire. It may be a second-tier work, but how churlish it would be to scorn such graceful music, persuasively brought to life by the sweet-toned English violinist and his responsive musicians from across the border?

The Romantic Cello Concerto series might seem to be lagging behind at only Volume 7 and once more, many New Zealand concert-goers will remember soloist Alban Gerhardt from his appearances with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Composer Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848-1890) has gone down in history as one of music's villains for his brutal hatchet job on Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. Yet, strangely enough, Tchaikovsky accepted his friend's interferences and, although the composer's original score appeared in 1956, Fitzenhagen's version has continued to be played by artists like Lynn Harrell and the great Rostropovich.

With Stefan Blunier conducting Berlin's Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester, Gerhardt offers a fine line in polished fervour; even the much-maligned cadenzas make their point and one inevitably regrets not hearing the excised eighth variation. Fitzenhagen's own works, including two slight concertos, might be dismissed as notespinning by some, yet Gerhardt's obvious affection for the sentimental sighs and flutters of their slow movements, almost has one overlooking other compositional shortcomings.

Bruch, Violin Concertos
Fitzenhagen, Cello Concertos

both Hyperion, through Ode Records
Verdict: English label is still unearthing treasures unlikely to make it to the concert hall.

- Weekend magazine

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