Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Finale: Allegro giocoso
While Roslavets’s first violin concerto must rank among the most important Russian works of its era, the second concerto seems in some respects a slighter piece. It uses the same three-movement form, but is altogether shorter (the second and third movements are quite brief), and calls for a somewhat smaller orchestra. Compared to Concerto No 1 it is written—like the last two movements of the Chamber Symphony—in a harmonically simplified, more strongly tonal style, with a clear tonal centre of D major. Its forms are rather laconic: there is less development of material, but underlying its major-key pretensions there is a persistent darker undertow characteristic of the earlier Roslavets.
It seems almost certain, moreover, that in the second concerto (as in the Scherzo of the Chamber Symphony) Roslavets evokes Uzbek, or at least Central Asian, folk melodies, whether quoted or imitated. Unquestionably the opening theme of the first movement has that character, and (after the interposition of a dotted-rhythm figure apt for development) is given almost technicolour treatment before the initial tutti dies away. The violin’s striking, recitative-like first entry, accompanied by timpani roll and harp glissandi, proceeds to a florid decoration of a lyrical second theme: this is repeated and elaborated and leads into a faster development in which the violin presently takes over the opening theme but seems more intent on giving out fragments in harmonics and decorative elements. Indeed one fascination of this movement is the comparative simplicity of its melodic materials set against the convolution and bravura of the solo violin writing. The bold recitative returns, but this time leads into a sprightly Vivo coda.
The Adagio slow movement is in a comparatively simple ternary form. It begins in F with a substantial orchestral introduction in which an initial folk-like theme soon becomes only one strand in orchestral polyphony. The violin then takes it up, again in much-decorated form. A contrasting theme appears in A minor, at the same tempo, to form the central section, and a short unaccompanied solo leads into an elaborated version of the opening section, with a brief coda in which the violin eventually soars up to end on a high F. Throughout, the mood is elegiac and oppressed, but richly harmonized.
The finale, Allegro giocoso, starts off with a cheerful main theme whose chief motif is a triadic idea of two-note figures leaping up and down in thirds. As this figure gravitates to the bass the tonality changes to F sharp minor and the violin, accompanied by harp and clarinets, gives out a long-breathed espressivo theme closely related to the folksong-like melody with which the concerto began. A mysterious transition works back to the ebullient idea that opened the finale after which a second episode, in E flat, evolves with another folk-like dolce theme—into which the giocoso theme intrudes, and then hustles all before it into a breakneck coda. Brilliantly effective though they are, both this finale and the slow movement feel rather vestigial, as if Roslavets was unwilling to explore the full expressive potential of his materials. Or perhaps he intended a comment on a time that demanded optimism and had no time for reflection. Whatever the reason, this concerto remains a superb vehicle for the solo violin, and has certainly not deserved the obscurity that has so far been its fate.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008