Mona and Rica Bard jumpstart Bruch double piano concerto

This release features two live recordings from a Max Bruch Jubilee Concert. The recorded sound and the performances are first-rate. The Staatskapelle Halle directed by Ariane Matiakh has a warm sound that’s still richly detailed. The audience is so well-behaved that this could pass for a studio recording.

For many, Buch is a one-hit-wonder. His first violin concerto has overshadowed the rest of his catalog. The Jubilee Concert seems to have addressed that.

The Suite on Russian Themes shows Bruch as a master orchestrator. He doesn’t do much more than present the folk songs as-is. Interest is maintained through his inventive use of tonal color that varies greatly throughout the work.

Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra was commissioned by sister pianists to play together in concert. Here, sisters Mona and Rica Bard are the soloists.

The story of the concerto is far too complex to relate here. Suffice it to say that the Bards perform the original four-movement version. Their playing is wonderfully expressive, and at times they perform as one.

Parts of the work reminded me of Brahms and other parts of Mendelssohn. And while this won’t replace Bruch’s violin concerto as his greatest composition, it’s still an enjoyable piece. There are plenty of well-crafted melodies. And the overall structure of this four-movement work plays against audience expectations time and again.

An excellent recording of some exciting live performances. Recommended.

Max Bruch: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a
Suite on Russian Themes, Op. 79b
Mona and Rica Bard, pianos
Staatskapelle Halle; Ariane Matiakh, conductor

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