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Violin Concerto in G minor
Somervell’s Violin Concerto was written in 1930 for Adila Fachiri, the sister of Jelly d’Aranyi and great-niece of Joachim. (Gustav Holst wrote his Double Violin Concerto for her.) Somervell’s concerto was first performed by the Reid Orchestra in Edinburgh in 1932, when owing to the indisposition of Donald Francis Tovey it was conducted by his factotum Mary Grierson, and was apparently well received. Tovey, however, managed to contribute one of his celebrated programme notes. The BBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast the concerto in February 1933 under the baton of Adrian Boult and it was quickly heard in various provincial concerts including Liverpool and twice in Bournemouth. Although it was published in piano reduction and full score (dated 1933, designated ‘3rd score’) it was then forgotten until this recording.

This is a straightforward and heart-warming work in three fairly conventional movements. While Somervell was a product of a Germanic musical aesthetic, there is an English feel to this music which Tovey ascribed to ‘the treatment of the minor mode [which] is tinged with the Doric and Aeolian of English and kindred folk-song’. Just occasionally the violin’s melodic line takes a turn that brings Elgar to mind, while the more pastoral episodes have a certain Vaughan Williamsy feel. The work opens with an extended orchestral tutti in which two themes are heard, both of them elaborated over a wide time-span. But the violin soon takes over, and the soloist is first heard unaccompanied with a soaring cadenza-like passage. Eventually we hear the second of the themes from the introduction which is then elaborated. The first figuration of the opening theme generates other themes later in the movement. Perhaps the most characteristic and cherishable aspect of Somervell’s writing is the way his lyrical themes extend and are transformed in a freely flowing texture. When we eventually reach the cadenza it comes as something of a shock to find that we have been going for over thirteen minutes. This is not assertive music, and the middle section of the cadenza is accompanied very softly by the strings. The return of the orchestra is molto tranquillo as the violin soars.

If the first movement is personal to Somervell, the slow movement, Adagio, is even more so, yet without using anything extreme by way of musical language. The movement opens with the wind alone leading into the main theme, a song which the soloist expands into an extended tune accompanied by strings. Counter-melodies, particularly on the horn, give a wonderful romantic ambience to the music, like a vision of a summer’s day. The music is largely poetic in its haunting vision, and especially in the middle section the violin’s flow is very much of its time in British music. This is a similar vision to those of the young Finzi and Milford, except that at this date Somervell is technically more accomplished.

The rondo Allegro giocoso finale is a bucolic dance. For the second group, as the music returns easily from F to the key of G, Tovey has a wonderful simile, describing ‘the orchestra seeming to stretch itself in a slow yawn while the solo violin blows smoke-rings’. There are no passing clouds, and after an outburst for the whole orchestra the soloist scampers for the end, the descending arpeggios surely revealing a composer who loved the Mendelssohn concerto.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2005

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Details for CDA67420 track 4
Allegro moderato e con grazia
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 4
    Release date: February 2005
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