BRUCH Works for Violin and Orchestra
Guy Braunstein is a persuasive player who is soon to step down from his current position as concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic to pursue a solo career. He has a sweet, refined sound, which he employs to engaging musical effect, especially towards the close of the third movement of the Scottish Fantasy. Readers who know the Fantasy only from Heifetz’s recordings will be interested to hear one or two passages that Heifetz and his collaborators habitually cut. The recorded evidence suggests that Braunstein prioritises the music rather than the instrument’s purely virtuoso potential, though there are fireworks to spare in the Fantasy’s finale.
The First Concerto is also well played, the Adagio full of feeling, and although Ion Marin conducts an imaginative orchestral accompaniment (with some unusual dynamic underlining), the soft-grained Bamberg Symphony occasionally wants for impact. So an enjoyable programme but, given the number of highly recommendable rivals in this repertoire (too many to list comprehensively), not a terribly competitive one.
Turn then to Julia Fischer and the difference is like switching from a shy chamber player reluctantly taking the limelight to a star act on a high. And by saying that I am not suggesting either that Braunstein is a reluctant soloist or that Fischer is in any way brash or ‘flashy’ (quite the reverse, in fact), just that her bright, attenuated sound, vibrantly expressive but never overbearing, makes more of an immediate impression. What I will say is that David Zinman’s Zurich accompaniment scores a notch or two higher than Marin’s, being both more keenly focused and more securely played.
Fischer and Zinman are equally effective in the Dvořák Concerto, a spirited, buoyant performance that for much of the work’s duration wears an irresistible smile. Braunstein adds a charming little Bruch Romance, originally for viola but played here in an arrangement by Braunstein himself. But it isn’t enough to sway the balance in his favour. Fischer’s Dvořák measures up to Isabelle Faust and Pamela Frank (to mention just two digital favourites), and you’d have to venture back as far as Suk, Stern, Ida Haendel (on Hänssler) and David Oistrakh to do even marginally better. And none of the ‘oldies’ holds a candle to the current issue in terms of sound.