Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), the American violinist of Jewish descent, Gil Shaham performs Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63. Conductor: Susanna Mälkki. Recorded at the Alte Oper Frankfurt on May 17, 2019.
Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2
Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, is one of the Russian composer’s most celebrated works and stands among the most performed violin concertos of the 20th century. It was composed in 1935 during Prokofiev’s period of traveling in Europe, and it was first performed on December 1 of the same year, by the French violinist Robert Soetens (19 July 1897 – 22 October 1997) with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. The concerto was written while Prokofiev was increasingly contemplating a return to his homeland of Soviet Russia, which he did in 1936.
Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto showcases the composer’s rich harmonic language, exceptional melodic invention, and distinctive blend of lyricism and rhythmic vitality. It also reflects his ability to skillfully balance traditional forms with innovative content. Despite the generally modernist musical landscape of the time, this concerto is striking for its relatively conservative, even Romantic style. It is full of beautiful, long, singing lines, as well as the rhythmical twists and turns characteristic of Prokofiev’s style.
In terms of structure, the concerto follows the traditional three-movement format of fast-slow-fast, which was standard for concertos. However, Prokofiev’s unique orchestration, combined with the broad emotional spectrum, from sweetly melodic to intensely dramatic, lends the piece its original character.
The concerto starts with a solo violin theme, setting a precedent that the violin is not just an accompanying instrument but an active player throughout the concerto. The work is also characterized by an elegant dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, with the violin often carrying the melodic line and the orchestra providing both support and contrast.
Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto is often considered more accessible than his earlier works, partly due to its melodic richness and emotional directness. It’s a significant contribution to the violin repertoire and a favorite among many violinists and audiences worldwide.
With start times in the video:
- Allegro moderato 00:33
- Andante assai -Allegretto – Andante assai, come prima 11:29
- Allegro, ben marcato 22:14
1. Allegro moderato
The first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, marked Allegro moderato, presents a fascinating mix of lyricism and drama, encapsulating Prokofiev’s characteristic style.
The movement begins with a strikingly simple, but deeply expressive, theme played by the solo violin, immediately setting an intimate, melancholic mood. This melody, based on a five-note scale motif, is almost folk-like in nature, reflecting Prokofiev’s appreciation for folk tunes and his ability to integrate them into complex orchestral textures.
Following the solo violin’s introduction, the orchestra gradually joins, repeating and developing the main theme. Throughout the movement, the solo violin and the orchestra engage in a dialogue, with the violin often taking the lead in introducing themes that the orchestra subsequently elaborates upon.
A more animated second theme interrupts the first theme’s reflective tranquillity. This theme is rhythmically lively, filled with Prokofiev’s signature dissonances and surprising harmonic shifts. The contrast between the themes creates an engaging push-and-pull dynamic, with moments of repose and intensity interspersed.
After the exposition of the two main themes, the movement proceeds to the development section, where the themes are varied, intertwined, and thoroughly explored. Prokofiev makes use of the full expressive range of the violin and the orchestra, with the music journeying through varying emotional terrains.
The recapitulation brings back the themes from the exposition, with some changes in the orchestration and interactions between the solo violin and the orchestra. The movement concludes with a coda that reprises the melancholic main theme one final time, with the solo violin taking the spotlight.
2. Andante assai -Allegretto – Andante assai, come prima
The second movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, marked “Andante assai,” provides a contrast to the vigorous nature of the first and third movements. This movement is often recognized for its exquisite lyrical beauty and profound emotional depth.
The Andante assai starts with the violin playing a long, sinuous melody that sets the contemplative mood of the movement. This opening theme, filled with rich chromaticism, unfolds over a delicate orchestral accompaniment. The recurring, haunting theme of this movement is deeply emotional, demonstrating Prokofiev’s talent for crafting deeply expressive melodic lines.
As the movement progresses, the violin is intermittently accompanied by solo wind instruments, which offer poignant responses and reflections to the violin’s statements. The exchanges between the solo violin and the orchestra create a rich tapestry of sound, with the music flowing seamlessly between the various instrumental voices.
The middle section of the movement presents more rhythmically intense music, providing a contrast to the opening’s tranquillity. However, the opening theme eventually returns, played by the violin with even greater expressivity, bringing the movement to a peaceful close.
This slow movement is renowned for its emotional intensity and melodic beauty. It showcases the violin’s lyrical potential and offers the soloist an opportunity to demonstrate both technical prowess and expressive depth.
3. Allegro, ben marcato
The finale of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, marked “Allegro, ben marcato,” is filled with rhythmic energy and vivacity, providing an exciting conclusion to the concerto.
This movement is characterized by its distinctive rhythmic drive and pronounced accents, typical of Prokofiev’s music. It starts with a playful, dancing theme introduced by the orchestra and then taken up by the solo violin. This theme, often described as having a “gypsy-like” character, is imbued with Prokofiev’s characteristic mix of angular rhythms and melodious lines.
The second theme of the movement is more lyrical, providing a contrast to the relentless rhythm of the opening. This melody is first introduced by the clarinet and then taken up by the solo violin. As the movement progresses, Prokofiev skillfully weaves together the contrasting themes, showcasing his mastery of form and orchestration.
The movement also features a number of virtuosic passages for the solo violin, including rapid scale runs, intricate double-stops, and daring leaps across the instrument’s range. These elements highlight the technical demands of the concerto, challenging the soloist’s skills and offering them a chance to showcase their virtuosity.
The concerto ends with a coda that recalls the main themes of the movement, culminating in an exhilarating, rhythmically charged conclusion. The final bars feature a rapid ascending scale in the solo violin, followed by a powerful orchestral chord, bringing the concerto to a thrilling close.
- Violin Concerto No. 2 (Prokofiev) on Wikipedia
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” [Peter Tiboris, Pan-European Philharmonia] - February 27, 2024
- Telemann: Concerto for Traverso and Recorder in E minor, TWV 52:e1 [Bremer Barockorchester] - February 26, 2024
- Rachmaninoff: The Bells [Kolokola] [Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Groot Omroepkoor, Karina Canellakis] - February 25, 2024