VIEUXTEMPS: Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 (Dennis Burkh/ Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra/ Misha Keylin) (Naxos: 8.554114)
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Violin Concerto No. 2in F sharp minor, Op. 19
Violin Concerto No. 3in A major, Op. 25
Henry Vieuxtemps wasborn in 1820 in Verviers, not far from Li?¿ge, a district of Belgium that wasfertile ground for violinists. He had his first lessons from his father, aweaver and amateur violin-maker and player, followed by study withLecloux-Dejonc, a teacher who won praise from Eug?¿ne Ysa??e, whose own youngerbrother, the pianist Theophile Gautier, was born in Verviers. Vieuxtemps madehis first public appearance as a violinist at the age of six, playing aconcerto by Rode and the following year embarking on a concert tour ofneighbouring cities with his teacher. In 1828 he was heard in Brussels byCharles de Beriot, who accepted him as a pupil. In the following years, now inthe absence of de Beriot, he continued to perfect his technique and broaden hismusical tastes, assisted in the latter task by his teacher's sister-in-law,Pauline Garcia, later Pauline Viardot, then a pupil of Liszt. Concertsthroughout Germany and in Vienna won him an increasing reputation, leadingSchumann, in Leipzig, to compare him to Paganini, whom Vieuxtemps met and heardin London in 1834.
It was in 1836 thatVieuxtemps wrote his first violin concerto, the Concerto No. 2 in Fsharp minor, published as Opus 19. He had had some technical instruction inVienna from Simon Sechter, the teacher with whom Schubert was planning to studyat the time of his death in 1828, and further lessons in Paris with Anton Reicha.
At the same time he had taken care to observe possible techniques ofinstrumentation by attending orchestral rehearsals with score in hand. Thefirst movement, marked Allegro, starts with the conventional orchestralexposition with a strong F sharp minor subject leading the way to a morelyrical theme in A major, returning to the original key for the entry of thesolo violin with a new theme, expanded into a virtuoso passage of tripletdouble-stopping and repeated in varied form. This leads to the re-appearance ofthe A major lyrical second subject already heard in the orchestral exposition,with a further extension into technical virtuosity. The orchestra closes themovement. This is followed by a B minor Andante with a D major middlesection that brings more double-stopping. The final Rondo has a dramaticorchestral opening, before the gentler material introduced by the soloist. Theprincipal contrast in the movement is with a theme based on the descendingscale, but there are moments of sound and fury, a group of 52 notes takenstaccato in one bow, a cadenza and a scintillating final display of octaves andof dramatic quadruple stopping, as the concerto comes to an end.
Vieuxtemps made hisfirst visit to Russia in 1837, returning in the following years. It was inRussia that he wrote the Concerto No. 1 in E major, published asOpus 10, a work he introduced to Paris audiences in 1841, to the admiration ofmusicians and critics, including Wagner and Berlioz. In 1843 and 1844 he touredAmerica and in the summer of the latter year, during a holiday at Cannstadt,near Stuttgart, he wrote his Concerto No. 3 in A major, Opus 25, a worklater described by Ysa??e as a great poem rather than a concerto, influenced, hewent on to suggest, by Beethoven's Violin Concerto, a work thatVieuxtemps had revived in Vienna in 1834, seven years after its composer'sdeath, and was to play again there eight years later, in 1842. There is adramatic opening to the orchestral exposition, with which the concerto opens,later introducing a secondary theme marked Canto. The soloist enterswith the descending dotted rhythmic figure heard at the beginning of the workin simpler form and this is expanded and extended with opportunities forvirtuoso display, before the gently expressive second theme, played largely onthe G string. Forceful intervention by the orchestra allows a modulation to theunexpected key of C minor, where the first solo subject is heard again, oncemore over a tremolo accompaniment. The original key is restored and the finalsection of the movement also allows the timpani a moment of glory, areminiscence, perhaps, of the r??le played by the instruments in Beethoven'sconcerto. The aria of the C major Adagio provides immediate contrast,increasing in strength and intensity, as the music rises, but ending at peace.
The Rondo starts in A minor with a theme marked, characteristically forthis concerto, con delicatezza. Contrast of major and minor keys and ofdramatic intensity and lyricism continue in a movement that allows relativelyunintrusive display. The technical demands, as always, are considerable, butoften encompass moments of great delicacy.
1844 also brought forVieuxtemps marriage to the Vienna-born pianist Josephine Eder. From 1846 to1852 he was in St Petersburg as court violinist, soloist in the ImperialTheatres and teacher, writing there his Concerto No. 4 in D minor, awork described by Berlioz as a symphony with a violin solo, and a number ofother compositions. After leaving Russia, he spent two years in Brussels,before settling for a time in Dreieichenhain, near Frankfurt. In 1866 he movedwith his family to Paris, continuing all the time his international career. In1871 he returned again to Brussels, now as professor of the violin at theConservatory. Here he devoted considerable time and energy to teaching, hiswork interrupted by a stroke that affected his bowing arm, making furthervirtuoso playing impossible. He was replaced by Wieniawski, but in 1877 resumedteaching and conducting once more. Illness led finally to his resignation in1879, when he joined his daughter and son-?¡in-law at Mustapha in Algeria. Herehe continued to compose, completing a sixth and seventh violin concerto and anew cello concerto, in addition to other less demanding pieces. He died in1881.
The JanačekPhilharmonic Orchestra, based in Ostrava, is one of the major orchestras of theCzech Republic, and is well established throughout Europe. The orchestraregularly tours throughout Europe with great success. Recent tours haveincluded France, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and the UnitedStates. The orchestra includes several outstanding ensembles including thefamed Janaček Chamber Orchestra which has on many occasions toured theUnited States, Japan and throughout Europe, and the Kubin String Quartet, oneof the outstanding younger quartets of the Czech Republic. The orchestra hasmade numerous recordings for various labels. The Janaček PhilharmonicOrchestra has its own major International Festival "JanačekMay", and has also participated in several major festivals includingPrague Spring and the Dresden International Festival.
Dennis Burkh, chiefconductor and music director of the Janaček Philharmonic Orchestra, hasbeen active as a guest conductor throughout the Czech and Slovak Republicssince 1963 and is the first American to be appointed conductor of a major Czechorchestra. He has been a regular guest conductor with over fifty orchestras inseventeen countries throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Included aresuch notable orchestras as the New Philharmonia Orchestra, the Orchestra DellAcademia di Santa Cecilia, Hague Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, DresdenPhilharmonic, and the orchestras of the BBC (London), RAI (Italy) and RTE(Ireland). His musical studies were first in piano, and later in cello. He wasassistant to Ferdinand Leitner at the Stuttgart Opera and Antonio Votto at LaScala Opera of Milan.