Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto No 5 in A minor 'Grétry', Op 37
1858/9; composed at the request of Hubert Léonard as a competition test piece for the Brussel Conservatoire; the Adagio quote the melody 'Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?' from André Grétry's opera Lucile

'Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos' (CDA67798)
Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67798 
Part 1: Allegro non troppo
Part 2: Cadenza
Part 3: Adagio – Allegro con fuoco

Violin Concerto No 5 in A minor 'Grétry', Op 37
Vieuxtemps’s Violin Concerto No 5 in A minor Op 37 was written in 1858–9 at the request of his friend Hubert Léonard, as the test-piece for a competition at the Brussels Conservatory, where Léonard was professor of violin (the post that Vieuxtemps himself would later occupy). The work was, therefore, expressly designed to test the capabilities of (very advanced) student players, but it has maintained itself in the repertoire on its own merits and probably surpasses the Fourth Concerto in popularity. It is sometimes known as the ‘Grétry’ Concerto because Vieuxtemps chose to quote a melody of that composer in the Adagio. Originally there was no slow movement, only the first movement and finale linked by a cadenza, but Vieuxtemps eventually added the Adagio in the interests of structural balance and range of expression. Essentially, however, the concerto is played without a break as if in a single movement (an idea that Vieuxtemps may have derived from the piano concertos of Liszt or the Concerto pathétique of Ernst).

A finely sculpted orchestral introduction exploits the ‘tragic’ possibilities of the A minor tonality to set out three powerful and memorable themes, then subsides into relative stasis as if becalmed. The violin first enters with reflective rising arpeggios, but is soon giving vent to full-blooded virtuoso writing before it bends to the matter in hand, developing the substance of the orchestra’s exposition as an anxious first subject. A transition of brilliant passage-work leads to a yearningly lyrical second subject in C major. A passionate development ensues with the violin taking the lead in soloistic pyrotechnics, followed by a fairly orthodox recapitulation and coda save that the violin continues to expatiate against this background in its most flamboyant vein.

The orchestra breaks off for the cadenza, which begins with the opening theme of the work but develops into a magnificent polyphonic meditation, by no means simply a display piece, upon the first movement’s materials. A few bars of orchestra link into the Adagio, in which the violin first sings an almost operatic solo against a hushed pizzicato accompaniment. It modulates to C major to sing a hauntingly beautiful melody, adapted by Vieuxtemps from the aria ‘Où peut-on être mieux qu’au sein de sa famille?’ in André Grétry’s opera Lucille. After various episodes of touching pathos (here, as throughout, Vieuxtemps’s plangent scoring for woodwind is noteworthy), the ‘Grétry’ melody appears transfigured in A major, and the orchestra then hurries us into the A minor finale. Marked Allegro con fuoco, this is more of a bravura coda than a movement in its own right, a brief effusion alluding to the themes of the first movement while hurrying us to a triumphant close.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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