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The concert news in London in November 1935 was dominated by the first complete performance of Walton’s symphony; Harty conducted the now-complete four-movement work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, three weeks before Heifetz’s Sibelius sessions with Beecham. Whilst in London, Heifetz took Walton to lunch at the old Berkeley Hotel in Mayfair, a restaurant noted for its hand-painted wallpaper. It was a popular eating-place for musicians (here, dining in the summer of 1933, Elgar had told Fred Gaisberg and Harriet Cohen that his Symphony No 3 was ‘finished’).
Over lunch, Heifetz commissioned a violin concerto from Walton—a remarkable tribute to the composer’s stature at that time. Walton was to take his time over the concerto, not beginning serious work on it until early 1938, and much of it was written in Italy where he was convalescing after a hernia operation.
The structure of the Violin Concerto in B minor follows that of the earlier viola concerto (in turn, influenced by Prokofiev’s first violin concerto—Walton had been present at the British premiere by Szigeti in 1925) and there is also a subtle quote in the finale from the Sibelius concerto Heifetz had been recording with Beecham when he commissioned it.
The violin concerto shows Walton at the height of his powers: the solo part, as edited by Heifetz, could be by no other composer and the orchestration is masterly. Heifetz was thrilled by the work and premiered it in Cleveland with Artur Rodziński on 7 December 1939. But by then war had broken out in Europe and Walton could not be present; he conducted the British premiere in November 1941 with Henry Holst as soloist. Two years later he slightly revised the orchestration.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2017
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