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Violin Concerto in G minor, Op 80

'Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell: Violin Concertos' (CDA67420)
Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell: Violin Concertos
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Movement 1: Allegro maestoso – Vivace – Allegro molto
Movement 2: Andante semplice – Andantino
Movement 3: Allegro molto – Moderato

Violin Concerto in G minor, Op 80
Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto was his last major work, written for Maud Powell, who was the soloist at the first performance at the Norfolk Connecticut Music Festival on 4 June 1912, but not published until later the same year, after his death. On the same day a local performance was given in Croydon by W J Read—not Elgar’s ‘Billy’ Reed—for the purpose of establishing copyright in the UK. The formal British premiere was given at the ‘Proms’ at Queen’s Hall, on 8 October 1912. The soloist was Arthur Catterall and the conductor Sir Henry Wood. It was five weeks after the composer’s death, and if for no other reason it made a great impression. It was heard in the USA, Maud Powell having five dates with it in the following season, including New York and Chicago, but in Europe, where the composer himself had been booked to conduct it in Berlin and Dresden, it seems to have been quietly forgotten, apart from a performance in Bournemouth in 1913 with a local violinist. The work was not revived until a concert to mark the centenary of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1980, when it was played by Sergiu Schwartz.

Coleridge-Taylor originally set out to write a concerto based on spirituals but was unhappy with his first attempts and eventually wrote the present concerto using original thematic material. Yet there are melodic and harmonic resonances of Dvorák’s American works about it, not least in the first movement.

The remarkably large-scale opening movement, Allegro maestoso, is a classical sonata movement, although the composer’s fondness for constantly exploring passing episodes and interpolating decoration for his soloist gives it something of a rhapsodic feel. The opening theme is immediately taken up by the soloist, each phrase of the theme decorated by Coleridge-Taylor’s inserted falling and rising arpeggios of increasing complexity, much in the manner of his popular violin encores. This is contrasted with the charming dotted second subject, Vivace, which is used extensively. Eventually the music reaches the cadenza, which the violin plays over a sustained timpani roll on D, the soloist mainly toying with the dotted rhythm. A mellifluous 2/4 Allegro molto leads to the end, the soloist now playing the first subject with the fullest tone.

The charming nocturnal slow movement (Andante semplice) in 6/8 is almost completely lyrical. The opening muted strings immediately set the mood, as the violin presents the first theme, the decorated violin line weaving an enchanted reverie with the orchestra. The second section (Andantino) is heralded by an orchestral tutti which grandly introduces a new theme before the violin takes it up. The finale might be called a free rondo since the outlines of a rondo are present, but Coleridge-Taylor is constantly happy to explore little contrasted vignettes within the music, or follow his rhapsodic inclination where it takes him. Here much of the orchestration is very lightly applied, not least at the beginning. At one point there is a passing moment of drama as the maestoso first theme of the first movement briefly thunders out, and there is a passing reference to the slow movement. The work ends with the opening theme of the first movement now rhythmically altered, and at the end the opening rhythm is heard once more.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2005

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Details for CDA67420 track 1
Allegro maestoso – Vivace – Allegro molto
Recording date
25 February 2004
Recording venue
Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, Scotland
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell: Violin Concertos (CDA67420)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: February 2005
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