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Violin Concerto in B minor

composer
1938, revised 1943; commissioned by the Jascha Heifetz

 
In the USA, on Christmas Eve 1934, Jascha Heifetz recorded Sibelius’s violin concerto in fractious sessions with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. This was the only time violinist and conductor ever met, a fraught occasion witnessed by Sergei Rachmaninov who was waiting patiently to record his new Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini after the Sibelius. Heifetz forbade release of the concerto recording with Stokowski, and, almost a year later, on 26 November 1935, he re-recorded the work in London with Beecham and the LPO. By that time, Walton’s major works had been heard several times in America—Stokowski had given three performances of Belshazzar’s Feast in Philadelphia in January 1934.

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

Recordings

Walton & Barber: Violin Concertos
SIGCD238Download only
Walton: Violin Concerto, Partita & Hindemith Variations
Studio Master: CDA67986Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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