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Max Bruch absolutely embodied the Romantic period of Classical music. Every single one of his musical ideas is like a dictionary definition of what it meant to be a Romantic composer – extraordinary, really, given that he lived to the remarkably ripe old age of eighty-two and was still writing music alongside the likes of Schoenberg and Bartók.
Surprisingly, despite his prolific output for the instrument, Bruch was by no means an accomplished violinist himself. Hard to believe when you listen to his glorious and ever popular Violin Concerto No.1. His Violin Concerto No.2 will always sit in its shadow.
That’s not to say that No.2 is bereft of fine melodies, though. Far from it. The concerto, premiered in Crystal Palace in November 1877 with Pablo de Sarasate as the soloist, is powerful, expansive and deeply rewarding. Sarasate, who had premiered Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, was clearly the inspiration for this one, too. Writing to a friend in March 1877, Bruch commented ‘the principal ideas of the work are products of the enthusiasm which his indescribably perfect rendering of the first concerto aroused in me’.
It’s unusual because of its slow first movement and the Violin Concerto No.2 will probably never reach the heights of the phenomenally successful No.1. But that by no means suggests it’s not an accomplished and hugely enjoyable work.
Itzhak Perlman (violin); New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Jesús López Cobos (conductor). EMI Classics: 3565232.
Illustration: Mark Millington