Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 54
The Violin Concerto in A minor Op 54 was composed in 1891, but not published until several years later, having undergone a process of careful revision with the help of Leopold Auer. The work is structurally quite original, being cast in a single movement that nonetheless falls into four clear sections, an exposition and recapitulation enclosing a slow movement and an intermezzo in waltz time (which themselves flank a brief central Allegro development section). This clear and concise structure is one that allows Arensky’s gift for melody and pleasing contrasts of musical character to shine forth.

The concerto opens Allegro with a shapely but somewhat anxious and elegiac principal theme, expounded in the orchestra and shortly taken up in elaborated form by the violin. A chromatic transition leads to a sweeter second subject, poco meno mosso, before the first theme returns, brilliantly decorated by the violin and provoking some dramatic orchestral writing before the solo part soars up to a high trilled G that prompts a cadence into C, the relative major of A minor. Led off by the horn, here unfolds the lyrical Adagio non troppo that serves as a slow movement. A folk-like theme is decoratively embellished by the soloist and provides a background to increasingly elaborate virtuoso writing.

The concerto’s opening theme returns and initiates a very brief ‘development’ section with some bold orchestral writing. A short cadenza, played con sordino, leads into the Tempo di valse, whose elegant main theme is related to the second subject of the exposition. In this expansive and captivating section Arensky allows the violinist full rein to dominate the scene and indulge in such effects as strummed pizzicati and harmonics. Fragments of the 4/4 Allegro begin to infiltrate the 3/4 waltz-time, and a full recapitulation of the opening section’s material gets underway, with dramatic orchestral outbursts and imperious octave writing in the solo part. Both main themes are reprised and lead to a weighty coda characterized by brilliant violin writing that issues in a bravura cadenza and continuous, scintillating figuration up to the decisive final bars.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009

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