Accompanied by the Verbier Festival Orchestra, French classical violinist Renaud Capuçon performs Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Conductor: Jaap van Zweden.
The piece is widely regarded as one of the beautiful concertos written for violin. Mendelssohn began working on it in 1838, but the work took another six years to complete and was not premiered until 1845. German virtuoso violinist and composer, Ferdinand David (19 June 1810 – 18 July 1873) was the violinist who premiered the piece and his collaboration was essential for the concerto’s birth: Mendelssohn originally proposed the idea of the violin concerto to him, a close friend and then concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Movements (with the starting times in the video):
- Allegro molto appassionato (E minor) (00:00) Instead of an orchestral tutti, the concerto opens with the almost immediate entry of the solo violin, playing the very tune in E minor that gave Mendelssohn no peace. Following a bravura of rapidly ascending notes, the opening theme is then restated by the orchestra. There is then a frenetic chromatic transition passage as the music subsides and modulates into a tranquil second subject theme in G major. The melody is initially played by the woodwinds with the soloist providing a pedal note on an open G string. The tune is played by the solo violin itself before a short codetta ends the exposition section of the opening movement. The opening two themes are then combined in the development section, where the music builds up to the innovative cadenza, which Mendelssohn wrote out in full rather than allowing the soloist to improvise. The cadenza builds up speed through rhythmic shifts from quavers to quaver-triplets and finally to semiquavers, which require ricochet bowing from the soloist. This serves as a link to the recapitulation, where the opening melody is played by the orchestra, accompanied by the continuing ricochet arpeggios by the soloist. During the recapitulation, the opening themes are repeated with the second theme being played in the E major before returning to E minor for the closing of the movement. The music gathers speed into the coda, which is marked ‘Presto’, before a variant of the original chromatic transition passage ends the first movement.
- Andante (C major) (12:05) The bassoon sustains its B from the final chord of the first movement before moving up a semitone to middle C. This serves as a key change from the E minor opening movement into the lyrical C major slow movement. The movement is in ternary form and is reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s own Songs Without Words. The theme to the darker, middle section in A minor is first introduced by the orchestra before the violin then takes up both the melody and the accompaniment simultaneously. The tremulous accompaniment requires nimble dexterity from the soloist before the music returns to the main lyrical C major theme, this time leading towards a serene conclusion.
- Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace (E major) (19:34) Following the second movement, there is a brief fourteen-bar transitional passage in E minor for solo violin and strings only. This leads into the lively and effervescent finale, the whole of which is in E major and whose opening is marked by a trumpet fanfare. This movement is in sonata rondo form with an opening theme requiring fast passage work from the soloist. The opening exposition leads into a brief second B major theme which is played by the soloist and builds to a series of rapidly ascending and descending arpeggios, reminiscent of the cadenza from the first movement. The orchestra then plays a variation of the opening melody, after which the music moves into a short development section in G major. The recapitulation is essentially similar to the exposition, apart from the addition of a counter-melody in the strings. The second theme is repeated, this time in the home key of E Major. There is almost a small cadenza near the end of the movement when the woodwinds play the main tune against prolonged trills from the solo violin. The concerto then concludes with a frenetic coda.
- Encore: C.W. Gluck – Melody from Orfeo ed Euridice (29:17) Orfeo ed Euridice (French version: Orphée et Eurydice; English: Orpheus and Eurydice) is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck (2 July 1714 – 15 November 1787) based on the myth of Orpheus, set to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. It belongs to the genre of the azione teatrale, meaning an opera on a mythological subject with choruses and dancing. The opera is the most popular of Gluck’s works, and one of the most influential on subsequent German opera.