Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wieniawski - Violin Concerto No. 2 In D Minor

In his lifetime Henryk Wieniawski was first and foremost thought of as one of the premiere violinists of his age, but he also began composing while still a child.  His life as a traveling virtuoso (and his death at 44) kept his opus numbers to a meager 24 with a few other works that were never published or published without opus numbers.

The premiere of Wieniawski's 1st Violin Concerto In F-sharp Minor  was a success that perhaps was due to
the composer's brilliant playing because the work has never became part of the repertoire. History has proven that while it is an interesting work that contains some beautiful music, the imbalance between the long first movement and the brevity of the other two movements (not to mention the very difficult solo part) makes it a difficult work to play and bring off musically. With the 2nd Concerto Wieniawski tightened up his writing and form. While the solo part is still very technically challenging, Wieniawski has technique serve the music instead of music serving technique. The 2nd Concerto is a standard in the repertoire. It is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  The orchestra introduces the themes of the movement straight away. The first theme is an impassioned one in the home key of D minor. A secondary theme in F major that is mostly carried in the woodwinds and horns appears. The first theme returns and builds to a climax that ushers in the soloist who changes the mood to a lyrical one. Snatches of the first theme appear in the orchestra but the solo violin remains in its lyrical mood until it sputters out some virtuoso passages, but it soon returns to its lyrical side as it seems more interested in the second theme than the first.  Music for the soloist turns more virtuosic as the first theme is varied and expanded. This leads to a section for the full orchestra that plays a passionate version of the first theme and parts of the second until the music grows somewhat quiet, but the first theme is heard in full volume. The music grows quiet again with the clarinet playing a solo that leads directly to the second movement. Wieniawski avoids the problem of his top-heavy 1st Violin Concerto by truncating his first movement by removing the recapitulation section,  thus shortening the movement but also eliminating a cadenza. By the time of the premiere of this concerto in 1862 composers were slowly eliminating cadenzas in their works, probably because not every soloist could devise a cadenza that fit in with the rest of the first movement.

II. Romance: Andante non troppo -  The movement is in B-flat major and the violin sings one of the most beautiful melodies written for it. The music builds until a climax is reached shortly before the ending. The violin plays ascending scale and comes to rest on a high note as the orchestra plays a quiet accompaniment.

III. Allegro con fuoco – Allegro moderato à la Zingara -  A short solo for the violin prepares the way for a rondo movement in gypsy style.  The soloist brings back the second theme of the first movement in two of the episodes between the repeats of the rondo theme, bringing a formal unity to the work that was missing in his first concerto.

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