Carl Nielsen: Violin Concerto, Op. 33 Violinist – Baiba Skride

nielsenToday’s post marks the second appearance on this blog of the Danish composer, Carl Nielsen.  The first, in May 2012 (which you can read here), featured his Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 59, in a stunning performance by Heng-Jin Park.  Composed in 1928, that work has a much more modern sound than the violin concerto presented here, which dates from 1911 and is firmly rooted in the 19th century romantic tradition.

As with so many pieces, I was introduced to this concerto by Seattle’s classical music station, KING-FM, in a recording by Adele Anthony.  For me, it was a clear case of love at first hearing, and I knew right away that I wanted to feature it on this blog.

Speaking of KING-FM, I encourage everyone, no matter where in the world you are, to pay at least one visit to the KING-FM website, click on the “Listen” button, and enjoy whatever happens to be playing.  You will hear many of your favorites, and discover much that is new.

The concerto consists of two movements, each of which has two sections.  Their tempo indications, and their start times in the video, are as follows:

1. Praeludium – Largo (0:49); Allegro cavalleresco (7:33)
2. Poco adagio (20:40); Rondo – Allegretto scherzando (27:26)

The following notes were written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic by musicologist Susan Key:

The opening Praeludium begins dramatically, with forceful chords framing extended declamatory passages by the soloist, gradually giving way to a lyrical melody that moves through a lengthy series of shapes, gestures, and moods.  True to its title, this section operates as an introduction to the broad tonal and aesthetic outlines of the entire piece: a wide-ranging journey led by the soloist, a flexible shifting among harmonies, and an approach to form that resists clear structural outlines but that nonetheless manages a sense of cohesiveness.  The effect of this music might best be described as “sculptural” – and not by accident, as an important influence on Nielsen was his wife, sculptress Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, who said of one of her works: “What I wanted to show in my figure is the forward movement, the sense of life, the fact that nothing stands still.”

Crisp accents introduce the second part of the movement, a robust Allegro cavalleresco.  The second movement, an introspective Adagio, begins with woodwind solos before yielding to the expansive explorations of the soloist; its atmosphere suggests the influence of the Norwegian countryside (Nielsen wrote to his wife from Troldhaugen: “In the evening the mountains around here are standing clear with the blue sky as background.”)  The final rondo features a rustic theme; in spite of some difficult passagework, the movement overall eschews the kind of pyrotechnics that often finish off a concerto.  While the composer’s claim that the music “renounces everything that might dazzle or impress” might be taken with a grain of salt, it’s true that the material is more streamlined and that the solo passages (except for a cadenza) are more fully integrated into the orchestral texture, thus achieving a “higher unity” at the end of the musical journey.

The soloist in this performance is the Latvian-born Baiba Skride (pronounced SKREE-deh).  Born in 1981, Ms. Skride was the winner of the 2001 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition, and has since gone on to international acclaim.  She is joined in this performance by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, led by Nielsen’s countryman, Thomas Søndergård.

Overall, this concerto is a very intimate work, and seems the perfect choice for Ms. Skride, who, rather than playing her violin, seems to play in partnership with it.

Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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