Vaughan Williams wrote his Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in 1924-5 and dedicated it to Jelly d’Aranyi, Hungarian violinist and grand-niece of Joseph Joachim. She gave the premiere in November 1925. The composer originally entitled the work 'Concerto Accademico', a name he subsequently disliked, withdrawing it before a Menuhin performance in September 1952. The work reveals a less familiar aspect of Vaughan Williams’ musical personality, its relative emotional detachment possibly suggesting a reaction to the horrors of the First World War. The opening movement, marked Allegro pesante, begins with a robust idea based on rising fifths. Neo-baroque tendencies—equally evident in many other works of this period, not least the Fugal Overture and Fugal Concerto by Vaughan Williams’ friend and confidant Gustav Holst—are here incorporated within Vaughan Williams’ personal language. In no way do they submerge his assimilated folk-song characteristics, while occasional suggestions of bitonality add pungency. Semiquaver passagework for the soloist gives way to a cadenza (in strict time) before the time-signature changes from 2/4 to 3/4, with some bars of 6/8. The main theme here, with light pizzicato accompaniment, is derived from the second part of the opening subject. A new lyrical melody emerges during the development section, in accord with the violin’s change to legato semiquavers. A dialogue between fortissimo strings and the soloist’s chunky double-stopping leads to another brief cadenza with chordal accompaniment, before a general intensification which includes rapid arpeggiated string-crossing for the violin and some playful cross-rhythms. This culminates in a brief final Presto with an emphatic cadence (Molto allargando). The intimate central Adagio, scored for muted strings, begins with a solo cello (unmuted) before the violin enters with even more decorative melodic lines. The key having changed to G major, the second violins initiate a little sighing motif which becomes an almost permanent feature while Vaughan Williams shows how expressive a rising scale can be. Following an eloquent climax the movement relaxes into a passage marked Tranquillo which includes a short cadenza. The finale is dominated by jig rhythm, its main theme adapted from the composer’s opera Hugh the Drover. Subsequent material includes a new violin theme marked scherzando and a cantabile melody in more sustained notes, and thereafter legato and staccato elements are effectively combined and contrasted. The concerto—a work which has suffered unreasonable neglect—has a delightfully understated ending, as the soloist’s rhythm runs out of steam before the final chord marked ppp. A violin and piano arrangement by Vaughan Williams’ ex-pupil Constant Lambert was published in 1927.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2014