Accompanied by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra), German violinist Julia Fischer performs Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Conductor: Vasily Petrenko.
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Written in 1878, it is one of the best-known violin concertos and is considered one of the most technically difficult works for the violin. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A and B-flat, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in D, timpani, and strings.
The first performance was given by the Russian Empire violinist Adolph Brodsky (2 April [O.S. 21 March] 1851 – January 22, 1929) on December 4, 1881, in Vienna, under the baton of Hans Richter (János Richter) (4 April 1843 – 5 December 1916), the Austrian-Hungarian orchestral and operatic conductor. But Karel Halíř (1 February 1859 – 21 December 1909), the Czech violinist was who made the work popular with the public and win a place for it in the repertoire.
Halíř also premiered the revised version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 1905. When Tchaikovsky attended a Leipzig performance of the work in 1888, with Haliř as a soloist, he called the event “a memorable day”.
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto follows the typical pattern of a fast movement, then a slow movement, then a fast finale. The three movements are:
- Allegro moderato (D major). The first movement is in sonata form and can be divided into an introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda. The brief introduction is given by the orchestra in D major; as with the first piano concerto, its theme never appears again. The soloist responds with a cadenza-like entrance, and begins the exposition with the introduction of the cantabile main theme. After virtuosic passagework including fast-running scales and triads, a calm second theme is introduced in A major. The mood gradually intensifies and builds up to a majestic climax, with the main theme being played by the full orchestra, which has been ranked among the most satisfying “arrivals” in literature. The development section begins with a series of seemingly random chromatic shifts, ending in C major, where the solo violin processes a delicate variation of the main theme. A heroic orchestral tutti of the main theme in F major follows, building up to Tchaikovsky’s own, technically demanding cadenza that makes use of some of the violin’s highest notes. After the cadenza, which ends in a trill, the orchestra re-enters and the recapitulation begins with the main theme once again in D major. After a reprise of the second theme, also in D major, “orchestra and soloist race to the end” in a fast-paced coda.
- Canzonetta: Andante (G minor). The second movement is in a relatively slow triple meter and somber tone. It begins with a short chorale-like introduction in the woodwinds, followed by the introduction of the first theme in G minor in the solo violin; a simple cantabile melody that is “sweet yet melancholy”. A brief orchestral interlude leads to a brighter section in E-flat major. A reprise of the first theme leads to the transition, a series of orchestral chords that fade into the third movement, which follows without pause (attacca subito).
- Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (D major). There is no break or pause between the 2nd and 3rd movements. The final movement uses distinctly Russian elements: a drone-like accompaniment, the initial theme on the G-string that gives the music a “deep, resonant, and slightly gritty sound”, a tempo that gets faster and faster, a “lyric folk-like melody” inspired by Russian folk themes, and repetitive thematic loops. It begins with a lively orchestral intro, after which the solo violin leads into the dancing main theme in D major. A slightly calmer section (Poco meno mosso) in A major introduces the second theme, which is processed in a series of variations. The soloist accelerates (Poco a poco stringendo) to return to the main theme in F major, followed by a reprise of the second theme in G major. The main theme appears once more, and leads to a highly virtuosic coda in D major that concludes the work in a grand fashion.
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