Movement 1: Allegro maestoso – Vivace – Allegro molto
Movement 2: Andante semplice – Andantino
Movement 3: Allegro molto – Moderato
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