Russian Violin Concertos of the 20th Century

Yesterday, in further researching of violin concertos, I listened to a couple performed by Dmitry Yablonsky with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Nikolai Myaskovsky's Violin Concerto in D Minor (1933) and Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Violin Concerto in G minor (1959).

The first movement, Allegro ed appassionato by Nikolai Myaskovsky is extremely lyrical. There are a number of moments where the violin rises over the accompaniment in a very Tchaikovsky manner. The cadenza section in the middle has some very interesting double stop elements, where the violin is almost dueting with itself. Then, when the orchestra reappears, the virtuosic movement across the strings is done at a blistering pace. Later, as the movement comes to a close, the piece turns to a rich majestic sound of the orchestra. The "Russian" sound of this violin concerto is very evident and lovely, if not particularly modern in sound.

Myaskovsky's second movement, Adagio molto cantabile starts beautifully sweet, again with a Tchaikovsky air (heart rending). Use of the orchestra to play in an about the violin is, sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes carrying the theme (giving the soloist a much needed break). Some of the elements of this movement could be used in a ballet (if not the entire movement) - the themes are sweeping movement is simple, yet rich. However, it does tend to myander a bit - which is probably why it isn't played more.

The third movement, Allegro molto, is a mixture of number of different themes, all of them lovely, but how they are tied together is occasionally difficult to determine. Parts of this movement wouldn't be out of place in a Copland piece, so I'm not sure if there is a connection between what was influencing Russian music of the late 20's and early 30's, or if there is a Russian influence in Copland's music.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is a Polish Jew who lived much of his life in Russia (from 1939) and yet, lost most of his family in the holocaust. His concerto is much different from Myaskovsky's. It is still very tonal, not at all like that Penderecki's Violin Concerto, but more angular than Myaskovsky's yet still with strong Eastern European sounding chords. He was good friends with Shostakovich and the influence is evident.

The first two movements, Allegro and Allegro molto feel like one longer movement. The solo violin work is rich with dark emotion. There is a wonderful, fairly lengthy cadenza in the first movement. In the second movement, it's almost as if the string of the orchestra are at a subtle war with the solo violin. The contrast is very interesting and colourful.

Weinberg's third movement, Adagio is an extended solo section with minimal accompaniment underneath. There are no fancy pyrotechnical violin work, just beautiful, heart-breaking music. At the end of the movement, the sorrow is almost unbearable.

Moving on, the fourth movement, Allegro seems a bit of a disappointment, a fanfare that initially feels as if it requires a fair amount of skill on the part of the soloist, but is such a sharp contrast to the third movement that it doesn't fit (IMHO). Having said that, as a separate piece, it's amazing! After the initial statement of the fanfare motif, the piece moves into an angular struggle against being a fanfare and battle you might find in Bernstein's West Side Story, ending quietly as if unresolved. Of the movements, this one is my favourite; I'm just not sure how it fits with the rest of the piece, except that the ending of the second movement and the 4th are very similar.

I haven't been able to get scores for these works, so this examination is just on listening. Hopefully, this weekend, I can compare them to the two violin concerto's of Shostakovich to get a fuller understanding of mid-twentieth century Russian Violin writing. Shostakovich has affected much of my orchestral writing, so I would am not surprised to find these other Russian composers having a similar affect.


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