Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro
The Allegro first movement begins with a concise and tautly organized orchestral exposition, beginning in a stern F sharp minor and soon introducing a sinister bass motif before turning to the relative major (A major) for a mellifluous contrasting subject. A concluding third theme, in stealthy, march-like dotted rhythms, returns us to the original key and rounds off the exposition. All these elements are explored in the rest of the movement, but events do not unfold entirely along classical lines. After a pause, the violin solo enters high in its register (Vieuxtemps indicates that the entry should be attacca con molta forza) with a new and passionate theme, which is expanded into a virtuoso passage of triplet double-stopping and then repeated in varied form. Quiet woodwind then pave the way for the reappearance of the lyrical A major second subject, taken over espressivo by the violin and soon raised into the higher stratosphere; this too is extended into a passage of dazzling technical display. While this central section could certainly be described as a development, the functions of recapitulation and coda are foreshortened to provide a transition to the next movement, which follows without a break: the A major theme bursts out in the orchestra, and a quick orchestral summary of the other exposition themes, and then a modulating string passage of some pathos, lead to the second movement.
This is a B minor Andante dominated by the violin throughout. The principal theme has something of the character of an operatic aria, discreetly embellished and tender without undue sentimentality. A contrasting Poco più lento section in D major brings a warmly lulling theme, played ben sostenuto in double-stopped thirds and sixths which eventually become majestic triple stops spanning anything up to two octaves. The B minor music returns, somewhat more decorated, and the violin soars softly up to the heights as the movement closes.
The finale is a lively, capricious rondo in which Vieuxtemps really lets himself go. After a rather dramatic orchestral opening marked Allegro the violin insinuates itself into the proceedings with a repeated two-note figure before relaxing into an elegant Allegretto rondo theme which proves apt for festooning with rapidly executed ornaments and decorations. After an orchestral tutti the violin introduces a bold theme in octaves and quadruple-stopping. Contrast is found in the idea that follows this—a pathetically descending theme marked lusinghiero (‘pleading’) which, like the main rondo theme, is ripe for bravura decoration. The violin-writing becomes steadily more virtuosic as the movement progresses, and culminates in a cadenza—the only one in the concerto. The rondo theme then returns and leads into a coda of vertiginous bravura, though the ending remains in the grim F sharp minor with which the movement (and the work) began.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2012