Fridrich Bruk Symphonies Reflect on Art

Fridrich Bruk is a Ukrainian-born composer who made a home in Finland. He’s been quietly building an impressive catalog of symphonies. A catalog I would have known nothing about without Toccata Classics. The label has released five albums so far, bringing ten of Bruk’s twenty-three symphonies to the world. 

Several of Bruk’s works have extra-musical themes. The two symphonies in this volume were inspired by painters and their works. 

The subtitle for Bruk’s Symphony 13 is a little unwieldy — The Painter Malevich (1878–1935). Kazimir Malevich was a Ukrainian painter who pioneered the Russian avant-garde. His abstract art got him into trouble with the Soviet authorities. In the end, they forced him to return to a realist style. 

Bruk depicts the thwarted artistic spirit of Malevich and his battle with the authorities. The symphony opens with a heroic theme. It undergoes many transformations throughout the work. That theme, BTW, sounds very close to Alexander Courage’s original “Star Trek” horn call. But I’m sure that wasn’t intentional.   

Symphony No. 14 from 2015 is subtitled “The Scream.” It’s inspired by Edvard Munch’s painting but does far more than just musically depict the work. The orchestra doesn’t play at full volume throughout. Rather, Bruk creates an unsettled mode. The music sounds restless, and often at odds with itself. 

Bruk’s style is mostly tonal, which adds to the power of the work. We have a frame of reference. We know where the music is supposed to go — even when it doesn’t. And Bruk is a master orchestrator. Individual instruments, pairs, and trios, are used effectively. 

The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra directed by Imants Resnis delivers spirited performances. I’m hoping Toccata Classics will eventually release all Bruk’s symphonies. Every one I’ve heard so far is well-crafted and has a distinct personality.

Fridrich Bruk: Orchestral Music, Volume 5
Symphony No. 13, the Artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935)
Symphony No. 14, The Scream
Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra; Imants Resnis, conductor
Toccata Classics, TOCC 0661

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