Notes and Editorial Reviews
Not too many years ago Max Bruch was close to being a "one-hit wonder" in the classical music lists, that hit being his G minor violin concerto. There were a couple of shorter pieces, notably the Kol Nidrei, but there was little available evidence to judge the opinion of some familiar observers that Bruch was as great a composer as his contemporary Johannes Brahms.
With the CD era came an expansion of recorded repertoire, and now Bruch's three symphonies, more concertos, and several other large-scale works are available. None I've heard shows that he was near Brahms' equal, but they have solid workmanship, good melodies, considerable imagination, and other virtues that result in worthwhile music. However,
what likely kept Bruch from the highest compositional magnitude is his music's pervasive comfortable Victorian bourgeois outlook.
A look at Bruch's catalog reveals an emphasis on choral music, including that form so beloved of Victorians, the oratorio. Lay of the Bell (as its title is rendered in the flowery English translation of Edward Bulwer Lytton used in CPO's detailed program book) is not religious, but it is moralistic. Schiller's text was a mainstay of German sentiment during the 19th century. Casting a bell in a foundry is an allegory for raising a child to be a good person, presumed to be the path to ensuring personal prosperity and a well-ordered society. This sentiment foundered on the shoals of World War I and went under entirely during the Nazi era.
So this 100-minute-long choral and orchestral piece comes with a strike against it: It's a bit hard to read the text (particularly in the overheated language of Bulwer Lytton, he most famed for "It was a dark and stormy night...") without sniggering, the while Bruch's music plows on with undiminished earnestness. However, heard without first reading program notes or text, it becomes a very interesting, entertaining work, and it remains so on subsequent listening. There is some stodginess in the music, but it doesn't drag despite the pompous text. The large form is shaped well, so that the unexpected presence of the Christmas tune "Silent Night" at the work's end (unexplained by the notes or the text) evokes a satisfying frisson.
The performers approach the work as worthy of admiration, and they prove that it is. Fine melodies, along with an intriguing harmonic language marrying Brahmsian solidity with Wagnerian love of suspensions and other devices to keep harmonies unpredictable, make the music interesting. The four soloists are a fine group, singing with lyrical tones rather than the barking sound often heard in middle-European oratorio performances. Jac van Steen and his orchestra and chorus work well together, and the live audience is well behaved. The sound is a bit opaque, but not to a troublesome degree.
This is a big piece, obviously intended by the composer to be an Important Work. Ein Deutsches Requiem it ain't, but in this recording it provides a welcome insight into a composer who evidently has a lot of good unknown music still mouldering on library shelves.
--Joseph Stevenson, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Das Lied von der Glocke, Op. 45 by Max Bruch
Eleanore Marguerre (Soprano),
Annette Markert (Alto),
Klaus Florian Vogt (Tenor),
Mario Hoff (Baritone)
Jac Van Steen
Prague Philharmonic Chorus,
Kühn Mixed Chorus,
Weimar Staatskapelle Chamber Orchestra
Written: by 1879; Germany
Venue: Live Weimar, Germany
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