Max Bruch and his 1st Violin Concerto have their being in much the same niche as Johann Pachelbel with his
Canon and Paul Dukas with his Sorcerer's Apprentice. That is to say, they are known for one work only and the rest, to coin a phrase, is silence. And here was Herr Bruch and his warhorse on a bleak Broad Street night with the breeze homing in from Moscow, if not Manchuria; this performance having its interesting novelty in that both conductor and soloist, husband and wife, hail from Shanghai.
Vera Tsu, in high heels and scarlet dress of net and silk, stood four-square at Long Yu's elbow, bowing with arm held well away from body, playing vigorously but without grand gesture or histrionics. In the opening vorspiel the orchestra played just a little too forcefully, I thought, giving a slight impression of soloist and players being in competition rather than harmony. This romantic music seemed to coil itself in circular patterns like some lazy python around Ms Tsu as she mined the deep well of melody that pours from the score. There was a hint of shaky double-stopping in the allegro energico until the conclusion swept all before it. When is Oxford to hear Bruch's 2nd or 3rd Violin Concertos?
If the concerto was bursting with euphony, how is one to describe Dvorak's 8th Symphony other than in identical terms, given that of all his symphonies - the New World not excepted - this one contains the greatest concentration of melody? It's also notable for giving starring parts to some of the less glamorous instruments. Thus in the opening allegro con brio the trombones and cor anglais were prominent, while in the adagio the horns had their opportunity, making a fine double act with the beaming Tristan Fry, ebullient as usual on his timpani. The finale is chiefly notable for its dance rhythms, from the initial waltz to the Bohemian polka and, I think, rondo that follow on. Mr Long came into his own here, squeezing out the lilting measures like juice from a ripe pink lychee.
As he took the applause, how pleasant to see him striding half the width of the playing space to shake hands with the principal flautist, the excellent Tony Robb, and then the double bassist, the magisterial Thomas Martin, perhaps picked out not only for his playing but for his international standing in the manufacture of double basses from his Banbury atelier.