Bruch: Piano Trio, String Quartet – Nash Ensemble – Hyperion

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCH: Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 5; Four Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 70; Romance for Viola and Piano, Op. 85; String Quartet No. 2 in E Major, Op. 10 – The Nash Ensemble – Hyperion CDA68343 (9/3/21) 72:32 [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

Even a century after the death of Max Bruch (1838-1920), his reputation continues to rest upon his G Minor Concerto and selected works from the orchestral and choral repertory, at the expense of some truly moving chamber music. Bruch’s creativity in chamber music occurs at the extreme ends of his career, attested to in these selected pieces from the Nash Ensemble, recorded 28-30 September 2020 at the All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London.

The opening work, the Piano Trio in C Minor (1857), certifies the young composer’s studies with Ferdinand Hiller and Carl Reinecke and their emphasis on diverse, stylistic influences. The first movement, Andante molto cantabile, might hint at Baroque models, its slow motif in the strings a throwback; but at the piano entry, the motion increases along with a gift for expressive melody. The passionate interplay, often resonant in the manner of Schumann, moves thoughtfully, concluding with the keyboard (Simon Crawford-Phillips) in a concertante mode that segues into the brisk second movement, G Major, Allegro assai. The music assumes a quasi-waltz sensibility that likewise serves as a lilting scherzo somewhat anticipatory of the waltz theme in Saint-Saens’ Wedding Cake. Cellist Adrian Brendel enjoys some warmly expressive moments. The manic, insistent Presto finale in rondo form at moments reveals a few threads from movement one, a tour de force on a par with Mendelssohn’s best bravura writing. The first violin part (Stephanie Gonley) seems to have been lurking in relative quiet, awaiting these opportunities to pounce. The last page virtually sizzles with excitement, declaring a work that requires more attention.

Chronologically, the next piece demanding consideration, the 1860 String Quartet in E Major, stands as a product of Bruch’s work and studies in Cologne. The opening Allegro maestoso in unison, drone harmonies foreshadows much of Dvorak while keeping faith with Mendelssohn, and they all share a common respect for sonata-form. The momentum picks up, Un poco meno vivo, and a degree of learned counterpoint enters the mix. The rhythmic motion alternates slow and fast, often in suspensions, even incorporating an Italian tarantella as another concession to Mendelssohn. 

The Andante quasi adagio proceeds in B Major, a plaintive, semi-martial song that Bruch elaborates with finesse, allotting his first violin some lyrical concertante work. Drone harmonies resound, often projecting a “symphonic” sheen. When the viola (Lawrence Power) contributes to the effect, we have that sense of the “Scottish” aura that will attract Bruch his Op. 46. Following Schumann, Bruch gives us a scherzo with two trios, Vivace ma non troppo – Un poco meno vivo, with a distinctive rhythmic thrust and disjunction, much like Beethoven. The slashing attacks relent for the first trio, a restive moment of repose. The second trio, too, enjoys a rustic canter in modal harmony. The music of trio one reappears to conclude the movement. The Finale: Vivace projects dancing jollity touched by melancholy. The music possesses a swagger and rakish interplay of instruments quite akin to the spirit in Dvorak, which makes no mean compliment to a young composer of twenty-two years.

The Four Pieces for Cello and Piano were composed for the celebrated soloist Robert Hausmann (1852-1909) in 1896. Hausmann helped motivate Brahms to conceive the Double Concerto for him and Joachim. The opening piece, “Aria,” derives from Bruch’s own son Max Felix, who at twelve wrote the tune for flute and piano. The remaining three pieces each testifies to Bruch’s fondness for national dances: Finnish, Swedish, and Scottish (the air “lea-rig”). Cellist Brendel and pianist Crawford-Phillips invest each with requisite verve and idiomatic flavor. The Romance for Viola and Piano (1911) remains a rarity for the composer and the recital hall. Bruch wrote the piece for Maurice Vieux although the premiere in Berlin came about through Willy Hess. The opening theme, despite some rhythmic and registration permutations, drives the lyric forward. Violist Lawrence Power makes a case for this work’s increased  dissemination in our active concert life. 

—Gary Lemco


Bruch Piano Trios Nash Ensemble, Album Cover


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