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Violin Concerto No 4 in D minor, Op 31
Vieuxtemps’s personal favourite among his concertos was the Violin Concerto No 4 in D minor Op 31, which he composed while he was court violinist in St Petersburg. A heroic work on a substantial scale, it was described by Berlioz—who was perhaps comparing it with his own Harold in Italy for viola and orchestra—as a symphony with violin solo. In fact Vieuxtemps’s writing for the orchestra is as assured and resourceful, and sometimes as imaginative, as his treatment of the violin, though there is no doubt that the solo instrument remains the leading actor in the drama.

Nevertheless, Vieuxtemps delays its first appearance for a considerable length of time. The Andante first movement opens quietly, almost mystically, in the manner of a chorale. This is only the beginning of an extended and deeply expressive introduction that stealthily gathers pace, fills out in orchestration, and briefly turns turbulent and tempestuous, only to subside into a solemn march-rhythm and a swirling ostinato-figure in the strings that suggests billowing clouds. The soloist finally enters at stratospheric heights, and launches into a voluble, dramatic expostulation, assisted by the orchestra. A lyrical contrasting theme, Moderato, completes the roster of the movement’s material, whereupon the soloist launches into a passionate cadenza featuring fearsome triple- and quadruple-stopping.

A brief, swaggering cadential passage fades out on a long-held horn note that provides a link to the second movement, Adagio religioso. This too begins with a chorale-like idea, in the woodwind; and the violin’s first entry is largely concerned to decorate and extend this idea in a vein of warm sentiment. Ardour and virtuosity are not far away, however, and the movement turns dramatic for a while. When the passions subside we find the violin in a chaste duet with a harp, as it revisits the pieties of the movement’s opening, rising to a brief pinnacle of ecstasy before the close.

Vieuxtemps gave his performers the option of omitting the next movement, Vivace, but that course is not taken on this disc. It is a full-scale scherzo (in D minor) and trio (in D major), the former largely based on the violin’s opening theme in skittish dactylic rhythm. The scherzo’s deft, swooping phrases form the backbone for a remarkable bout of pyrotechnic virtuosity. The central trio is more rustic in character, with drone fifths in the orchestra and hunting-horn thirds and sixths in the solo part that are taken up and imitated by the horns themselves. After the reprise of the scherzo a scintillating coda brings this brilliant movement to an end.

Vieuxtemps calls his last movement Finale marziale. It begins with a review of the material of the first movement by the orchestra alone, thus allowing the soloist a much-needed rest—which is prolonged as the orchestra launches into the festive march-tune that is the finale’s main focus. The soloist re-enters, and soon takes over the march-tune, though in a good-humoured and less than military manner. Hair-raising fusillades of triple-stopping and trills punctuate the recurrences of the march, and as the end is approached the violin indulges in ever more breathtaking prodigies of bravura right up to the concluding bars.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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Details for CDA67798 track 4
Recording date
10 July 2009
Recording venue
Muziekgebouw Frits Philips Eindhoven, Netherlands
Recording producer
Alexander Van Ingen
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan & Peter Newble
Hyperion usage
  1. Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos (CDA67798)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: May 2010
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