Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto No 1
1925; first performed in the composer's own reduction for violin and piano in Moscow on 29 May 1929 by P Ilchenko and P Nykitin; full-score version first performed on 19 November 1989 by Tatiana Grindenko and the Moscow Philharmonic under Gluschenko

'Roslavets: Violin Concertos' (CDA67637)
Roslavets: Violin Concertos
Movement 1: Allegretto grazioso – Cadenza
Movement 2: Adagio sostenuto
Movement 3: Allegro moderato, risoluto

Violin Concerto No 1
Roslavets composed his Violin Concerto No 1 in 1925 while he was working as an editor for the State Publishing House. It was published two years later in a reduction for violin and piano, which was first performed in Moscow, on 29 May 1929, by P Ilchenko and P Nykitin at a concert sponsored by the Association for Contemporary Music. It was not heard again in Roslavets’s lifetime, and after his death the full score was believed to have been lost—if indeed it had existed at all, for all that could be found were sketches and Roslavets in his own catalogue of his music had listed the reduction only. As a result, in the last decades of the Soviet Union the reduction was occasionally played, and was even performed at IRCAM in Paris in October 1979. The composer Edison Denisov, who was in the forefront of the re-awakening interest in Roslavets’s compositions and regarded this Violin Concerto as the finest twentieth-century concerto after Alban Berg’s, planned to make an orchestral score of his own on the basis of the reduction. Fortunately, before he had carried out his intention, Roslavets’s full score was unearthed in the archives of the State Music Publishers in Moscow. As a result, it was one of the first works of the ‘Roslavets revival’ to be brought before the public, on 19 November 1989, performed by Tatiana Grindenko and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Feodor Gluschenko; Grindenko later gave many performances in and outside Russia.

The Concerto is an ambitious work (Roslavets uses a large orchestra with triple woodwind, full brass section and percussion, as well as a harp and a piano), laid out on a large scale. It develops the technique of ‘synthetic’ (or ‘thematic’) chords that Roslavets had initially developed from his understanding of the late works of Scriabin and perfected in his piano and chamber works of the immediately preceding years. There are still traces of his earlier Scriabinesque style, but Roslavets’s mastery of a leaner symphonic idiom, virtuosic and elegant, is immediately apparent. His harmonic and melodic innovations are here set within a relatively traditional three-movement form, with an energetic first movement and finale enclosing a central slow movement that is linked to the first movement by a solo cadenza.

Roslavets’s personal applications of principles akin to the Schoenbergian twelve-note method are apparent at the outset, where pizzicato cellos and basses repeat a figure comprising six notes of the chromatic scale and are answered by the violins with a repeated ascending figure using the other six. This foreshadows many situations throughout the concerto where the orchestra confines itself to one set of pitches and the violin uses another, the combination of the two spanning the total chromatic scale.

The opening of the Allegretto grazioso first movement, with its pizzicato bass ostinato, has a mechanistic character, but as soon as the violin has soared up to the heights in its first entry we are transported to an ecstatic sound-world more reminiscent of Scriabin or Szymanowski. The pull between taut, regular rhythms and ecstatic languor creates an unusual polarity that is central to the work. A more polyphonic Più mosso section, formally a second subject, is introduced by tenebrous chromatic writing in piano and low strings, rises to a climax and then sinks to the depths before the violin is heard again, in dialogue with a few instruments. The tempo shifts to a scherzo-like Allegro vivace for a swift-moving development which works up the material so far heard and then gives the violin, grazioso e capriccioso, the most lyrically diatonic music so far heard, though spun above a form of the opening bass ostinato.

That ostinato then returns in its original shape, transposed, to signal the start of the recapitulation. Soon the violin is soaring above the orchestra in passionate octaves that Roslavets marks entusiastico. After a giocoso episode of almost continuous violin figuration the piano-dominated Più mosso returns. Once again it sinks down into the depths, but then the orchestral texture opens out upwards into a radiant, wide-spread chord from which the violinist launches a brilliantly convoluted ‘Quasi cadenza’ in free tempo, an elegant and eloquent bravura outpouring full of double- and quadruple-stopping, free polyphony, roulades and trills that connects directly into the slow movement.

This is a large-scale Adagio sostenuto beginning with wintry tremolandi in the strings and melancholic wind solos (the five-note clarinet figure heard right at the beginning remains a thematic focus for much of what ensues). The violin rhapsodizes against insistently repeated motivic figures passed from instrument to instrument. The intensity, supercharged harmony and polyphonic density, soon issuing in an orchestral climax, make very clear why some of his compatriots regarded Roslavets as a Russian Schoenberg—though it is Schoenberg’s early works that are most obviously paralleled in this music. Like some of Roslavets’s other slow movements the form is exploratory, constantly evolving: almost like a tone-poem with obbligato violin. A faster-moving con moto pits the violin mainly against solo woodwind, despite fuller con passione outbursts. After a lyric duet between violin and harp the music returns to the Adagio tempo for a radiantly romantic orchestral tutti marked molto tranquillo, to which the violin responds in more skittish, fantastic style. All the materials so far heard return in varied forms and different instrumental colourings. (One is constantly aware that in the Concerto’s reduction for violin and piano it would simply be impossible to grasp Roslavets’s sheer mastery of orchestral timbres.) In the delicate coda, harp and solo strings spell out a wide-spread ten-note chord, against which the violin descends, like a sigh, to its lowest G.

The finale (Allegro moderato, risoluto) is a movement of insistent rhythms, hunted and haunted but with an exciting onward drive. The main theme, announced by the violin, is a vaunting, fanfare-like idea driven by insistent dotted rhythms. A more lyrical theme, espressivo, is heard against triplet figurations in horns and trumpets. These two ideas alternate in headlong juxtaposition. A more chromatic third idea in the violin is soon swept aside by the return of the dotted rhythms, con agitazione, which precipitates an emotional climax with the violin struggling to be heard against the power of the full orchestra. Over a bass drum roll, the chase is resumed, in fresh instrumental colours. It is the dotted-rhythm idea which dominates to the end, con fuoco, the fanfare character becoming a real fanfare for trumpets before the convulsive final chords.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008

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