Andante con moto in C# Minor, Op. 83 for clarinet, cello, and piano

April 19, 2009 – Jon Manasse, clarinet; Rafael Figueroa, cello; John Novacek, piano

A brilliant child prodigy, Max Bruch began composing at the age of nine. By his early teens he had completed his first symphony, and his reputation as a precocious talent had spread across Europe. As an adult, Bruch was renowned as a conductor, teacher, and the composer of major operatic, symphonic, choral and chamber works. At his height, many saw him as destined to be remembered as one of history’s greatest composers.

And yet, by the time he died in 1920, Bruch’s reputation had receded precipitously. His output had been long overshadowed by his Romantic contemporaries, Brahms, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky, and he lived to see himself become something of a musical anachronism. His relative obscurity at the end of his life was due largely to his conservative nature. Early in his career Bruch modeled his compositions after those of Mendelssohn and Schumann. As he grew older, he stubbornly refused to embrace the musical language of such revolutionaries as Liszt, Wagner, Strauss, and Schoenberg. Indeed, many of his final works sound as if they could have been composed sixty years before.

Taken on it own terms, though, Max Bruch’s music is melodious, masterfully crafted, and fully deserving of being heard. His two most popular works are his G Minor Violin Concerto and Kol Nidrei, a work for cello and orchestra based on Hebrew melodies. The 1910 trio for clarinet, cello (or viola), and piano, Andante con moto in C# Minor, Op. 83, is one of a set of eight pieces for this combination that he dedicated to his son, a professional clarinetist. These pieces were not intended to be performed as a suite; Bruch wrote them to be played separately or in smaller groupings.

The C# Minor trio highlights Bruch’s extraordinary melodic and dramatic gifts. Though not specifically programmatic, the piece seems to tell a story. The cello begins with an agitated lament, suggesting the image of a suffering penitent. After a minute or so, the clarinet responds with a soothing hymn, like the voice of a consoling angel. The two protagonists continue to alternate in their contrasting worlds until the clarinet finally prevails, gently drawing the cello into a heavenly resolution.

By Michael Parloff

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