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Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35a
1896/7; composed for and decated to Henri Petri who gave the first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic, Busoni conducting, in Berlin on 8 October 1897; published by Breitkopf and Härtel in 1899

'Busoni & Strauss: Violin Concertos' (CDA68044)
Busoni & Strauss: Violin Concertos
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato –
Movement 2: Quasi andante
Movement 3: Allegro impetuoso

Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35a
From the age of seven Busoni composed copiously and by his late teens he was being published regularly. Apart from two excellent, if rather early, string quartets, his main gifts to violinists were two sonatas with piano, from 1889 and 1898–1900, and the Violin Concerto, from 1896–7. He felt that his maturity began with the Second Violin Sonata. These works arose from his friendship with the distinguished Dutch violinist Henri Petri (1856–1914), a pupil of Joseph Joachim who worked as concertmaster, soloist, quartet leader and teacher in Leipzig and then in Dresden. Petri’s son Egon, a notable pianist, became a Busoni acolyte.

In D major, the key of Beethoven’s and Brahms’s violin concertos, Busoni’s Violin Concerto is clearly intended to continue their lineage—significantly, Busoni wrote cadenzas for both of them—although it never descends into mere imitation. It uses quite a large orchestra (three flutes, one doubling piccolo, two each of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings), but it is transparently scored, with plenty of Italianate cantilena for the soloist.

The work plays continuously but is in three discernible movements: there is even a vestigial scherzo towards the end of the opening Allegro moderato—Busoni was perhaps thinking of Brahms’s original plan for a four-movement concerto with scherzo. This first movement is considerably foreshortened in comparison with those of Beethoven and Brahms, and is rich in both themes and transformations of themes. From the solo violin’s first entry, picking up on the attractive opening motif, Busoni provides a good deal of rewarding passagework for Petri, but it is always moving the action forward. The central Quasi andante aspires to the soaring lyricism of Beethoven’s Larghetto and an oboe solo is a nod to Brahms’s Adagio: the classic ternary song form can be glimpsed, with a gently agitated central section, but the first theme is considerably transformed on its return. A brief cadenza leads into the brilliant Allegro impetuoso, which Busoni described as ‘a sort of Carnival’: its exciting final wind-up invites the applause which invariably ensues—at the premiere in Berlin on 8 October 1897, with the composer conducting the Philharmonic in an all-Busoni programme, Petri took five curtain calls and had to repeat the finale. Dedicated to Petri, the concerto was published by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1899.

Sadly, Busoni’s huge reputation is not reflected by his representation in concert programmes. Even the Violin Concerto has never ‘clicked’ with the public. One of its champions, Joseph Szigeti, found that he had to convince the composer of its quality: after he had played it to Busoni in London, the composer said: ‘Well, I must admit it’s a good work, though unpretentious!’

from notes by Tully Potter © 2014

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