Movement 1: Moderato con moto
Movement 2: Vivace – Cadenza –
Movement 3: Passacaglia: Andante lento (un poco meno mosso)
The Violin Concerto’s premiere was generally well received by both public and critics. Undoubtedly the piece represented a new depth of maturity in Britten’s music, most obviously in the extended Passacaglia finale (a form later to become one of the composer’s most characteristic and resourceful structures). In the New York Times, Olin Downes wrote: ‘Mr Britten has given us something that has a flavor of genuine novelty in the violin concerto form … The moods of the music traverse those of the poetical, the satirical and elegiac … The instrumentation, sometimes very simple, often very brilliant, is so expert that the violin is never covered when it is intended to show forth.’ As earlier in Britten’s career, however, some critics evidently enjoyed carping about his achievement, and this tendency was particularly noticeable when the work subsequently received its first UK performance, at London’s Queen’s Hall on 6 April 1941 (when the soloist Thomas Matthews was accompanied by the London Philharmonic under Basil Cameron). The Times, for example, declared on 7 April: ‘If the audience found some of the way heavy going they put a brave face on it and applauded with heartiness when it was over. Our own feeling was one of disappointment that so little is achieved from so large a display of ingenious effort.’ The Liverpool Daily Post wondered if the concerto was ‘really too clever’, but noted the ‘moments of genuine tone-poetry’. Britten later revised the work on several occasions—in 1950, 1958 and 1965—partly (and somewhat ironically) to remove what he felt had been Brosa’s excessive editing of the solo part, but also to amend the proportions of the finale. The score was dedicated to Britten’s friend Henry Boys, who had been his fellow student at the RCM; a capable pianist, Boys had (at the composer’s own suggestion) accompanied Brosa when he was rehearsing the work in the UK and demonstrating it to Barbirolli prior to travelling to America for the premiere.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2012