Bruch Scottish Fantasy
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Bruch Scottish Fantasy

Joshua Bell, Academy of St Martin in the Fields

A new Sony Classical release from Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell showcases two masterpieces from romantic composer Max Bruch. The album features Bell’s first recording of the virtuosic Scottish Fantasy as well as a new recording of the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, which he first recorded over thirty years ago with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner. Now, as Music Director of the Academy, Bell both performs and directs the orchestra and offers a fresh take on the Bruch Concerto in addition to a thrilling performance of the Scottish Fantasy. In recent years, the Scottish Fantasy has become a favourite performance piece for Bell and his affection for the piece runs deep and with good reason: “My father’s descendants were from Scotland, and I grew up hearing stories about how my great- grandfather and great-great-grandfather fought in the Black Watch in Scotland. My dad was proud of his Scottish heritage, and this connection makes the melodies in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy even more meaningful to me.” The Fantasy bristles with the snap and lilt of Scottish folk songs and Bell goes on to say “It is one of the most beautiful and touching pieces I know, and so brilliantly orchestrated. It is a unique ‘concerto,‘ not following the traditional three-movement form. Each of its four movements tells a story.”

Bell recalls how Bruch’s ever-popular Violin Concerto No.1 was the first major concerto he learned as an 11-year-old. “This piece is connected to so many memories!” Bell mentions that the great nineteenth-century violinist, Joseph Joachim, who figured prominently in Bell’s recent Sony Classical release, For the Love of Brahms, placed Bruch’s concerto in the same league as those of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mendelssohn and called it “the most seductive of violin concertos.” Bell says, “It is a huge audience favorite because it is so rich and lush. It has excitement, power, passion, and intimacy–it’s got everything!” “Now after more than thirty years of performing this concerto and with a variety of conductors, I am still inspired by the work, and I continue to find myself exploring fresh ideas and new possibilities for expression. As Music Director, I now have the opportunity to conduct while playing the solo part and it actually brings a whole new dimension to this piece. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields has become my musical family over the past decade, and I feel we have special chemistry!”

Review

Joshua Bell is widely considered one of the best violinists in the world, and when he was made music director of the prestigious Academy of St Martin in the Fields his world reputation was cemented. Many people would already know of him through listening to his many recordings or hearing of his famous ‘busking in the subway’ stunt (if you don’t know about it, look it up as the results are still fascinating). The first violin concerto he ever learnt, at the tender age of 11, was the ever-popular Bruch Violin Concerto. Then, thirty years ago at 20-years-old, he first recorded the Concerto with the Academy, led by their founder, Sir Neville Marriner. Now in 2018, leading it himself, he’s recorded it again, along with his first recording of the four-movement Bruch Scottish Fantasy. This album is a real look at the mature musicianship of Bell.

Starting with the Fantasy, the music leaps from the page, but with serious musical deliberation in each phrase the recording never becomes raucous. Sometimes as I listened I felt like Bell could easily have physically played these movements faster but made a conscious decision to bring the tempo down a notch or two. This brings a gravitas to some of the phrases, particularly in the finale movement of the Concerto which can often seem to run away from the soloist.

Bell comments that over recent years he’s become more and more enamoured by the Scottish Fantasy. With Scottish roots himself, and stories passed down the generations of fighting in the Black Watch in Scotland, finally recording the work gave him the opportunity to explore his musical heritage.


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