Accompanied by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one of the greatest violinists in the world, Maxim Vengerov performs Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Recorded at the Auditorium Parco Della Musica Roma on March 12, 2021.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto
Mendelssohn’s last concerto, Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 holds a central place in the violin repertoire and has developed a reputation as an essential concerto for all aspiring concert violinists to master.
Well received at its premiere in Leipzig on 13 March 1845, the piece has remained among the most prominent and highly-regarded violin concertos. It was premiered by the German virtuoso violinist Ferdinand David (1810 – 1873), the composer’s dear friend, in Leipzig on 13 March 1845. Mendelssohn, who was ill, could not conduct his new work, so the orchestra was led instead by Mendelssohn’s assistant Niels Gade.
Although the concerto consists of three movements in a standard fast-slow-fast structure and each movement follows a traditional form, it was innovative and included many novel features for its time.
Distinctive aspects include the almost immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work (rather than following an orchestral preview of the first movement’s major themes, as was typical in Classical-era concertos) and the through-composed form of the concerto as a whole, in which the three movements are melodically and harmonically connected and played attacca (each movement immediately following the previous one without any pauses).
- Allegro molto appassionato (E minor). 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). 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). In the finale of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, 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.
- Violin Concerto (Mendelssohn) on Wikipedia
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