Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 1 In F# Minor – Complete
Note: the sound was recorded by a close-range shotgun mic, which killed all the reverb, and therefore it sounds like I’m playing in a practice room.
David Roberts performs Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto Number 1 in F sharp minor, Opus 14 at the Emerging Artists Concert during the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival on July 5, 2012 in UVM Recital Hall on the University of Vermont’s Redstone Campus, accompanied by Nelson Padgett on piano.
I. Allegro moderato 0:44
II. Larghetto 13:06
III. Allegro giocoso 16:06
Henryk Wieniawski (1835 – 1880) of Poland was one of the Romantic era’s greatest violin virtuosos and a composer of some of the most challenging works in the violin repertoire, successfully blending brilliant virtuosity with true Romantic inspiration. His Violin Concerto No. 1 is a marathon for the violinist, brimming with virtuosic pyrotechnics as well as expansive romantic melodies, pathos and poetry that dazzle the audience. Some consider it the most difficult violin concerto of all. Dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Wieniawski composed and then first performed this concerto on October 27, 1853 in Leipzig when Wieniawski was just 18 years old and living in Russia, yet this work reflects an astounding musical maturity. A composition in which musical inspiration may have been, as critics later maintained, subordinated to the virtuoso’s need to demonstrate his sheer technical prowess, this concerto nevertheless hugely impressed European audiences, launching Wieniawski’s international career as a violinist-composer.
Michael Rabin chose this concerto to make his first professional appearance, accompanied by the Havana Philharmonic under Artur Rodzinski in 1947. Itzhak Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in New York City with this concerto in 1963, an event Perlman said that is “etched in my memory forever”. Physicist Stephen Hawking requested British violin virtuoso Charlie Siem perform this concerto at an event honoring Hawking at Cambridge University’s King’s College Chapel in 2006. Siem soon learned “what a monster it was,” requiring Paganini-level technique. Other famous artists performing this concerto include Gil Shaham, Ivry Gitlis, Robert Kabara, Liviu Prunaru, Midori, Konstanty Kulka, Victor Pikaisen, Marat Bisengaliev, Lukas David, Mikhail Bezverkhni, Vadim Brodsky, Boris Goldstein, Roman Simovic and Soyoung Yoon.
The extreme difficulty hits the soloist immediately with grandioso tenths opening the first movement (Allegro moderato). This movement has two contrasting themes, the first in dotted rhythm and initially hesitant and the second in B major (begun by the cellos), wide-ranging and expressive. These themes are, in turn, dissected and ornamented by the soloist with formidable virtuosity and acrobatics using multiple-stopping and harmonics, “devil’s staccatos” and, notably in the cadenza, the extreme upper register of the violin.
The second movement, Preghiera or ‘Prayer’ (Larghetto), is a short lyrical interlude in A major whose solo part probably is intended to be played entirely on the G-string, thereby exhibiting the richness of the violin’s tone while providing a substantial challenge, especially by requiring extreme sensitivity balancing the “religioso” and lyrical characteristics of this movement.
The Preghiera leads right into the energetic concluding Rondo (Allegro giocoso), a colourful and vivacious piece with a contrasting episode in B major and demanding mastery of martelé bowing and overall bravura playing. The brilliance of the first movement is recaptured in the final section of the last movement, which is intended to be performed as fast and crisply as the soloist can manage.
Wieniawski probably conceived this concerto as a showpiece of technical virtuosity on a par with, or indeed to outdo, any of Paganini’s caprices or concertos, and along the lines of violin fantasies on operatic themes that were becoming more and more fashionable. When asked about the sheer near-impossible demands of this piece, Wieniawski was reputed to have said, “Il faut risquer!” (One must take risks!).