Bartók – Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
London Symphony Orchestra
François-Xavier Roth, conductor
Bartók’s Violin Concertos: History
The Violin Concertos represent the extremes of Béla Bartók’s career. The Violin Concerto No. 1 is an early work that the Hungarian composer wrote for Stefi Geyer (who is represented in the ascending line of 3rds, the so-called “Geyer” or “Stefi” motif). The concerto was to be divided into three movement, representing the «idealized Stefi Geyer, celestial and inward» (first movement), «cheerful, witty, amusing» (second movement) and «indifferent, cool and silent» (third movement). Bartók later abandoned the project last movement and the Concerto therefore has two movements only. Geyer never performed the concerto and it was virtually forgotten for several decades before receiving its posthumous premiere in 1958.
The Violin Concerto No. 2 in B major is the only work for full orchestra Bartók wrote during the late 1930s. The composer’s greatest worry was about the balance between soloist and orchestra as he did not write a work of this kind from his early Violin Concerto. However, when he finally listened to the second Violin Concerto in 1943, he enthusiastically stated that there was nothing to change. The concerto is a sort of miscellaneous study in variation, reflecting Bartók’s original idea.
Violin Concertos: the Performance
The understanding between Renaud Capuçon and conductor François-Xavier Roth seems natural and instinctive. Roth catches all the changing colours and moods with detailed precision and makes easy to appreciate the slightest details of Bartók’s articulate melodies. As for Capuçon, he brings to the Violin Concertos not only his technical finish, but he also plays them with feeling. There not a single passage in this recording that does not have its precise meaning. Furthermore, the sound of the solo instrument perfectly blends with that of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Violin Concerto No. 1
The two movements of the first Concerto are quite different from each other. The first movement has a dreamy mood that gives it the character of contemplative stillness. It is especially Capuçon who highlights the melancholy, which is particularly well revealed by the distinctive sound of his instrument. The second is much more spirited and both orchestra and soloist display a taste for greater expressive variety, which is extremely remarkable in the violin long cadenzas.
Violin Concerto No. 2
In the second concerto, the most unexpected and subtle nuances appear. Capuçon plays in a way which brings resplendence and warmth to the work. It becomes a virtuosic tour de force with its demanding passages resolved with consummate skill. For his part, Roth’s definition of the varied timbral quality of the orchestral colours is even more marked than in the previous work. Actually, it seems that he really enjoys to give prominence to the tiniest particulars of the score and a meticulous attention to bring them out.