Accompanied by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, German classical violinist and pianist Julia Fischer and the German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott perform Johannes Brahms’ Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102, a concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. Conductor: Alan Gilbert. Recorded on October 30, 2020, at the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.
Johannes Brahms’ Double Concerto
Composed in the summer of 1887, the Double Concerto is Brahms’ last work for orchestra. There are three movements:
- Allegro (A minor)
- Andante (D major)
- Vivace non troppo (A minor – A major)
The work was first performed on 18 October of that year in the Gürzenich in Köln, Germany. Brahms approached the project with anxiety over writing for instruments that were not his own. He wrote it for the notable 19th-century German cellist Robert Hausmann (13 August 1852 – 18 January 1909), who premiered important works by Johannes Brahms, and the Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher Joseph Joachim (28 June 1831 – 15 August 1907). Joachim was a close collaborator and friend of Johannes Brahms, and he is widely regarded as one of the most significant violinists of the 19th century.
1. Allegro (A minor)
The first movement of Brahms’ Double Concerto, marked “Allegro,” opens with the orchestra laying down a strong, rhythmic theme that sets the tone. The cello soon takes the lead by introducing the primary theme, which the violin subsequently echoes. The two instruments frequently intertwine, producing lush harmonies and engaging in a captivating dialogue. As the movement progresses, a more lyrical secondary theme emerges, offering a contrast to the main theme’s assertive nature.
Brahms, renowned for his intricate developmental sections, doesn’t disappoint here. In this movement, the themes are fragmented, transformed, and explored with depth. There’s a rich interplay between the violin, cello, and orchestra, weaving a dense musical tapestry. As the movement nears its conclusion, the main themes make a return in the recapitulation, albeit with slight variations. The roles of the cello and violin often swap or come together, reiterating earlier material but with a renewed dynamism. The Allegro culminates with a grand orchestral statement, ending on a resounding note.
Beyond its musical depth, the Double Concerto has personal significance for Brahms. It’s believed he composed it to mend fences with his old friend, violinist Joseph Joachim, following a disagreement. By crafting a piece that necessitated both a violinist and cellist, Brahms saw an opportunity for collaboration and friendship renewal. The entire movement is a testament to Brahms’s compositional maturity, his profound grasp of the orchestra, and his nuanced understanding of the solo instruments’ capabilities.
2. Andante (D major)
The second movement of Brahms’s Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102, is marked “Andante.” This movement offers a contrast to the vigor and dynamism of the opening Allegro, presenting a more introspective and lyrical character. The gentle, song-like nature of this movement provides an intimate setting where the violin and cello engage in a heartfelt dialogue.
The music begins with a subdued orchestral introduction, setting a serene atmosphere. Soon, the cello introduces the main theme, which is characterized by its warmth and tenderness. The violin subsequently takes up this theme, further elaborating on it. Throughout the movement, the two solo instruments seem to converse, echoing and responding to each other with their respective variations of the theme.
The orchestration here is notably more delicate than in the first movement, allowing the solo instruments to shine prominently against the subtle backdrop of the orchestra. Brahms’s penchant for rich harmonies and intricate counterpoint is evident, as the violin and cello lines weave together in a mesmerizing dance of sound.
The Andante evokes feelings of nostalgia, introspection, and deep emotion, revealing Brahms’s ability to craft music that resonates on a profoundly personal level. As the movement concludes, the gentle thematic material gradually dissipates, leaving the listener in a contemplative mood, ready for the finale that follows.
3. Vivace non-troppo (A minor – A major)
The finale of Brahms’ Double Concerto is marked “Vivace non-troppo,” signaling a lively and spirited tempo, but not overly fast. This finale brings back some of the energy and dynamism found in the first movement, serving as a fitting conclusion to the entire concerto.
The movement commences with an energetic theme in the orchestra, setting the stage for the violin and cello’s entrance. These two solo instruments, once again, find themselves in a lively dialogue, passing themes back and forth, sometimes in unison and other times in playful counterpoint. The rhythmic motifs and folk-like melodies that pervade this movement are reminiscent of Brahms’s love for Central European dance forms, adding a rustic charm to the composition.
As the movement unfolds, Brahms showcases his mastery in blending the timbres of the violin and cello, allowing each to shine while ensuring they blend seamlessly with the orchestra. The dialogue between the soloists becomes more intricate, with rapid passages and virtuosic displays that challenge both performers.
Throughout the Vivace non troppo, Brahms ingeniously intertwines moments of playful lightness with passages of grandeur, keeping listeners engaged and creating a balanced musical journey. As the concerto draws to a close, the movement builds towards a triumphant and joyful conclusion, resolving the different moods presented throughout the work and leaving the audience with a sense of fulfillment and exhilaration.
- Double Concerto (Brahms) on Wikipedia