Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Concerto Guide: Vieuxtemps, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, op. 37

The next concerto chronologically is the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor by the Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps. Completed in 1859, it is the most popular of his six violin concertos. In his own performing career he leaned away from the superficial opera potpourris that were so popular at the time and towards a more classical repertoire, specifically of Beethoven. As a composer he was encouraged by both Robert Schumann and Hector Berlioz.

I chose this piece for a couple of reasons: it is a good example of the mid-19th century violin concerto with its wealth of passion and expressivity. IMSLP does not have the full score, just a violin/piano arrangement. It begins like this with the minor dramatic mood so much in favor for 19th century concertos (which undoubtedly goes back to the Mozart D minor piano concerto):

The other reason is that this was on a Pinchas Zuckerman album I used to own many years ago. I would listen to it every morning to remind me that the universe had a transcendental dimension: music!

Let's listen to a performance. This is Shlomo Mintz, Violin with the Sinfonieorchester des S├╝dwestfunks (Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra) conducted by Myung-Whun Chung:

Hilary Hahn is just releasing a new recording pairing the 4th Violin Concerto of Vieuxtemps with the 5th Violin Concerto of Mozart. This is the kind of thing an artist of her stature tends to do: rather than recording the same popular works by the same composers, she introduces us sometimes to new composers as in her encore album, or to less known works by familiar composers, such as the Vieuxtemps 4th Concerto here. UPDATE: Alas, that one was taken down. Here is a different performance, also with Hahn:

Interesting piece. I think you can see why the 5th is popular. But the 4th is perhaps structurally more interesting with its contrasting moods and unconventional layout.


Rickard said...

Interesting choice, it's certainly outside of the norm of your choices (which tend to be centered around the big names (for a good reason though) unlike Tom Service's choices which are all about diversity). I've heard about this composer but it's the first time I'm listening to something written by him. Anyways, I prefer the later part of the concerto, i.e. the slow movement and the last movement.

As for upcoming concertos: I think anything by Dvorak is a good choice. I suppose his 2nd Cello Concerto is the most popular but I found his other concertos to be better, for instance his Piano Concerto or even his incomplete 1st Cello Concerto (which was arranged and completed by Gunter Raphael). As for Brahms an obvious choice is his 1st Piano Concerto (the last movement is especially great). I haven't finished listening to his other concertos but will try to do so soon. Finally, Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto is somewhere in between his Violin Concerto and Flute Concerto. I didn't like it because it once again employs very chromatic sounding melody writing and it lacks thematic substance because of it in my opinion. It's obviously up to you if you want to listen to Nielsen's concertos but they aren't really that special (well, the Flute Concerto is pretty nice).

Marc said...

Had to wait until today to listen to the Vieuxtemps 4th and 5th (first time, so far as I know) and was at some point in the 4th's Adagio when I heard the good Biber, a personal favorite who I see you have written about... so much to hear, so much to read.

Rickard said...

I think Vieuxtemps' 4th Violin Concerto is much better. It's far more melodic (as in having good melodies) and more exciting (amongst other things).

As for Brahms: I haven't finished listening to his Violin Concerto yet but it seems to be another obvious/great choice.

Bryan Townsend said...

I find that I have to take a different approach with each era. The 19th century is always a very difficult era to deal with because of the wealth of material and the complexity of the music world at that time. I will certainly be posting on the Brahms Violin Concerto and the Dvorak Cello Concerto, but the rest I have yet to decide on. Probably a Brahms Piano Concerto as well, certainly Tchaikovsky, both the Violin Concerto and a Piano Concerto.

Yes, the Vieuxtemps Concerto No. 5 is the popular one, but I am leaning towards the 4th as well. Hilary Hahn is a powerful advocate!

Rickard said...

Well, looks like the video of the 4th concerto has been removed due to copyright.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh darn. Let me see if I can find another.