Ignaz Brüll: Orchestral Works

Ignaz Brüll was born on 7 November 1846 in the town of Prossnitz in Moravia. In 1850 his family moved to Vienna. His parents were both very musical and soon realised that the young Ignaz had great musical skills. Brüll's mother encouraged him by giving him his first piano lessons, but it was evident that he required more professional tuition, and he became a pupil of Professor Julius Epstein. Later he would study under Anton Rufinatscha and then Otto Dessoff. By the age of 14 he had composed his first piano concerto.

Being based in Vienna had many advantages, the most apparent being the contact with so many prominent and influential composers, performers and conductors. Brüll and Johannes Brahms became firm friends, a friendship which lasted until Brahms' death. Even Brahms’ orchestral works, including the symphonies, were first played by Brahms and Brüll on two pianos for friends and publishers.

Brüll wrote over 100 works for solo piano, many orchestral and chamber works and numerous operas. Sadly, nearly all his works have been ignored by the music establishment for more than a century, and the public have been denied access to Brüll's qualities which were so evident to Brahms. Even his close friendship with Brahms could not save him from the anti-Semitism being fuelled by Wagner and Liszt during the 19th century. Hitler idolised Wagner, and he ordered that music scores of Jewish composers be found and burnt. Fortunately for us, many of them were well hidden. Brüll deserves perhaps to be positioned alongside his friends Mahler and Schumann, and the closest of all, Johannes Brahms.



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The face that looks out from the composer's photograph is a kindly one, humorous and generous – and that is rather a good description of the music to be enjoyed here. No boundaries are pushed very far, there are no special technical feats, but the music, in a late romantic idiom, pleases continually with here an attractive turn of phrase, there a melody that stays in the mind.

The Moravian-born Brüll spent most of his life in Vienna – his family moved there when he was four. In Vienna he became a close friend of Brahms, who visited him often in his villa in Unterach on the Attersee. Brahms greatly admired both Brüll’s melodic gifts as a composer and his accomplishment as a pianist. There is perhaps an interesting study to be done about the fruits of their relationship and influence on each other. Brüll was a fairly prolific composer, with over 100 pieces for piano, various operas and works in most genres. That he has been so neglected since his death, despite Brahms’ evident admiration, has various possible causes. Lack of charm or melodic interest are certainly not issues. Perhaps that he pushed no boundaries accounts for some of the neglect, but much is the consequence of the Nazi attempt to obliterate the memory of Jewish composers.

Thanks are due to Cameo for this 2CD set of music, culled from previous issues where Brüll was paired with other composers. If he becomes better known, it would only be justice. Neither the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra nor the Belarusian State Symphony Orchestra is likely to appear on anyone’s list of the greatest ten orchestras, but both play idiomatically and well. The Malta woodwinds are characterful, and there is no need for anyone to hesitate over the quality of playing.

Brüll wrote three serenades of which the first two appear here. The first is highly melodic, and graceful. It is a lengthy piece, in six movements, and continually interesting. Much is urbane but there are some darker moments in the Andante, the fourth movement. The orchestra is smaller than for the Symphony or the Serenade No.2. The spirit of Mendelssohn is strong, here, as elsewhere on these discs. The second serenade is in three movements, with some lovely writing for horns and there is something playful about the whole. Notice too the transparency of orchestration – a feature of Brüll’s technique, suggesting a fine ear and confidence in his own skills.

The Violin Concerto is a real discovery. It needed to be reconstructed from a published piano reduction and a manuscript autograph of the full score. The violin part is strongly lyrical and there are some lovely interplays with woodwinds across the conventional three movements. The second movement is gorgeous. The interest throughout lies in melody and development – Brüll seems uninterested in any flashy virtuosity for its own sake.

The Symphony, from 1880, seems to be Brüll’s only essay in the form. More serious than the Serenades, it nonetheless retains a strong melodic impulse. An interesting feature is the Allegretto second movement (there is no really slow movement, though first and last are both marked Moderato), where the composer treats the orchestra as a chamber-music ensemble, a technique later used by Brüll’s younger friend, Gustav Mahler. The central movements are overwhelmingly gentle, despite some sly mischief in the Scherzo. Of the performances here this one is perhaps the weakest. One senses some trepidation in the Belarusian orchestra under Marius Stravinsky. Phrasing could be snappier and rhythmic impulse a little stronger.

If part of the genius of Brüll was the gift of sparkling friendship, the music here is an invitation to join that circle, beguiling, witty and kind.  Michael Wilkinson MusicWeb

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