Movement 1: Prelude: Grave
Movement 2: Gavotte: Allegro moderato
Movement 3: Märchen 'Tale': Andantino
Movement 4. Theme: Andantino
Movement 4. Variation 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 4. Variation 2: Allegro energico
Movement 4. Variation 3: Tempo di valse
Movement 4. Variation 4: Fuga doppia. Allegro molto
Movement 4. Variation 5: Presto scherzando
Movement 4. Variation 6: Tempo di mazurka. Allegro con fuoco
Movement 4. Variazione finale e coda: Andante
Movement 5: Tarantella: Presto – Più presto
This is evident from the very opening of the first movement Prelude, where after two tolling orchestral chords the soloist enters immediately with a brilliant cadenza-like passage of scales, arpeggios and trills that becomes a kind of motto for the work. The music seldom declines from the level of Paganini-like virtuosity of this opening. The second subject—brooding, chromatic, almost Wagnerian or even Franckian—is similarly treated to dazzling ornamentation and passagework.
The ensuing Gavotte starts off like a deliberate pastiche of an eighteenth-century piece (in the spirit, perhaps, of Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana Suite) but though the orchestral parts remain for a while more or less within the classical orbit, the soloist again displays the full range of transcendental technique that had accrued in the intervening century. The orchestra, too, gradually ‘updates’ itself to Taneyev’s habitual late-Romantic idiom, and drives to an unexpected return of the rhapsodic motto-theme from the work’s opening and a majestic formal cadence.
The Märchen (‘Tale’) is more like a miniature tone-poem than a genre movement. It seems to be developed from the first movement’s brooding second subject, and its initial innocent lulling rhythm is offset by an anxious mood and colourful episodes. A sense of narrative is evoked here, the violin combining with harp and side-drum to suggest various incidents and adventures within the tale.
The Theme and variations is the most extended and fully worked-out movement. The simple, expressive theme, which has something of the character of a cradle-song, is announced by the soloist and undergoes seven variations that use it as the basis for much more elaborate and complex developments. The first is fast and brilliant; the second a stormy and dramatic exercise in strong rhythms; the third a delicious and graceful waltz. Taneyev’s famed contrapuntal mastery comes out in the fourth variation, a grandiose fugato shared between orchestra and violin and culminating in a recall of the ‘motto-theme’. The fifth variation is a helter-skelter Presto scherzando, passing straight into the sixth, a rather earnest and hard-bitten mazurka. The final variation presents the theme in more or less its original form, but against a lusher, more chromatic harmonic background than it had at the outset of the movement. It soars into the violin’s highest register against evocative tremolando writing in the orchestral strings to create a quiet coda.
The finale is an example of Russian composers’ love for Italian music and its forms—an energetic and vivacious Tarantella, almost relentless in its onrushing rhythm except for a couple of slower, lyrical, even sentimental episodes. As the finale proceeds the dance becomes more frenetic, driving to an exciting conclusion guaranteed to bring down the house in a live performance.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009