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Violin Concerto No 1 in E major, Op 10
1840; subtitled 'Grand Concerto'; first performed by the composer in St Petersburg in 1840

'Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos No 1 & 2' (CDA67878)
Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos No 1 & 2
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Introduction: Adagio
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegretto

Violin Concerto No 1 in E major, Op 10
Vieuxtemps wrote the work which was published as his Violin Concerto No 1 in E major, Op 10, in 1840 (it also bears the title ‘Grand Concerto’); he premiered it with great success in St Petersburg that year, and subsequently performed it throughout Europe. As befits a later work, it shows some decided advances over the F sharp minor concerto. It is laid out on an expansive scale, and in fact is probably the longest and most imposing of Vieuxtemps’s concertos.

Its length is due principally to the unusually grand first movement, a huge structure lasting nearly twenty-five minutes. This begins with an orchestral exposition on a much larger scale than that of the F sharp minor concerto, presenting a veritable parade of ideas for later treatment. After the suavely melodic first theme has been quietly stated, the horns and trumpets, foreshadowing a martial character that will be manifest throughout the movement, introduce a tutti restatement of this idea, after which the woodwind etch a contrasting lyrical theme. Vieuxtemps’s handling of the orchestra throughout this concerto shows great skill. Further discussion of the opening theme (which reappears fortissimo and marked nobile, in sharp contrast to its initial appearance) and a quiet rhythmic closing figure bring the orchestral exposition to a close. As in the F sharp minor concerto, the soloist’s first entry is bold, high in the violin’s register, and decisively introduces new thematic content. The first three notes of this theme—a rising E–F#–G#, emphatically sculpting the beginning of the major scale—become an important motif in their own right. After stating another melody of its own, dolce, the violin sweetly takes over the first theme and soon makes it the basis for bravura elaboration.

All this activity is only the beginning of a very broad, generalized sonata design, full of incident and stirring orchestration as well as a hair-raising succession of pyrotechnic displays from the soloist, including multiple-stopping, octaves, simultaneously played contrapuntal lines, and rapid, florid figuration spanning the instrument’s entire range. Towards the middle of the movement, after an orchestral tutti with a long wind-down on the rhythmic motif, the violin introduces a fresh and passionate idea, Maestoso, with more than a whiff of Eastern European gypsy music. This is spun out over the rhythmic motif, which becomes an ostinato in the orchestral bass until taken over by the violin for an exciting development.

A short cadenza-like passage brings back the work’s opening subject in dreamy, meditative vein, and this can be regarded as the start of a much-varied recapitulation, culminating in a dramatic orchestral tutti which proves to be the introduction to the cadenza. Unlike the F sharp minor concerto, Vieuxtemps furnishes the E major with a substantial, fully notated cadenza—beginning with the E–F#–G# figure from the soloist’s first entry—that draws all the thematic threads together. A brief but brilliant coda brings the movement to a close.

In contrast to this huge movement, the A major Adagio is brief; in fact it is merely the introduction to the finale. It begins with seraphic strings (the passage might almost be by Grieg). The violin, dolce, embellishes a simple, sweetly sentimental melody, then gives it the full technicolour treatment of passionate octaves against rustling string tremolandi which lead straight into the rondo finale. Dotted rhythms in the orchestra introduce (and characterize) the carefree cavatina-like main theme, with which Vieuxtemps is able to have plenty of fun, also introducing a parade of colourful episodes, including a breezy march in B major. The violin is kept almost continually busy, until an orchestral tutti and an expectant pause herald the reappearance of the expressive tune from the Adagio, presented with a light pizzicato accompaniment. This moment of pleasurable nostalgia is developed into an important episode before the rondo music returns, taking on the character of a scintillating perpetuum mobile as it drives the concerto to its conclusion.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2012

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