Concerto in A-flat minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings, and 2 solo pianos
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
In 1911, while touring Europe, the American duo-piano team of Rose and Ottilie Sutro performed with great success a Fantasy for Two Pianos written a half-century earlier by Max Bruch, he of the evergreen G-minor Violin Concerto. They played the Fantasy for the composer at his home in Berlin and he was delighted, readily acceding to their wish that he write for them a concerto for two pianos, which he based on an earlier Suite for organ and orchestra. The sisters performed the concerto for the first time in 1916 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski.
But what the audience heard was a greatly simplified version of what Bruch had written. As it turned out, they had already asked the – by then in straitened circum- stances – composer to make a number of changes in the score, which he seems to have done. But in fact, the sisters continued to tinker with the score until, as would be discovered later, it bore little relationship to the original.
Present at an auction of Ottilie’s effects in 1970 was the American pianist Nathan Twining, who bought a box of otherwise unidentified Sutro papers for $11. The box contained the bowdlerized solo parts, with the orchestral parts (presumably the Bruch originals) in another box bought at the same auction by another bargain-hunter, from whom Twining eventually obtained them. This was the beginning of the return to life of the Bruch Two-Piano Concerto in as close a version as possible to what the composer intended, after two years of reconstruction in collaboration with another
American pianist, Martin Berkowsky. The two recorded it in November 1973 with the London Symphony under Antal Doráti and again later in Germany, with James Conlon conducting.
The Concerto is in four movements, the first beginning with a solemn fanfare followed by a fugue, both based on themes which Bruch had heard in a Good Friday procession on Capri, where he was recu- perating from a bronchial ailment in 1904. Movement II, which follows without pause, is by contrast tuneful and lighthearted, while the subsequent slow movement is grandly lyrical. The finale begins with a slow intro- duction based on the Capri/Good Friday themes before the mood brightens and the concerto ends in a display of keyboard- orchestral fireworks.