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Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók Composer

Violin Concerto No.2 in B-, BB117, Sz.112

Performances: 27
Tracks: 74
  • Violin Concerto No.2 in B-, BB117, Sz.112
    Key: B-
    Year: 1937-38
    Genre: Concerto
    Pr. Instrument: Violin
    • 1.Allegro con troppo
    • 2.Andante tranquillo
    • 3.Allegro molto
Bartók's lifelong interest in variation as a compositional stratagem found its fullest expression in this Concerto, which he completed in 1938. Bartók had been at work on the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta when his close friend, violinist Zoltán Székely, asked him for a concerto. Bartók initially planned a large-scale theme-and-variations work, but Székely indicated a preference for a traditional, three-movement work. Bartók's response was ingenious, preserving his own plan for variations within the framework of three movements. The middle movement, Andante tranquillo, follows a traditional theme-and-variations plan, while the finale is a large-scale variant of the first movement. Székely gave the first performance in Amsterdam in 1939, with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg. That premiere was recorded on 78 rpm shellac discs; the recording has been released to the public, and while its sound quality can at best be called poor, it preserves Bartók's own tempo and balance preferences. Over measured B major chords from the harp, punctuated by pizzicato low strings (which sound the five-note motif, B-F sharp-A-E-B, that is the foundation of all the concerto's thematic material), the soloist launches a noble theme in verbunkos rhythm, a long-breathed melody of forthright optimism that immediately places the concerto in Olympian altitudes. In keeping with the Apollonian poise of this Allegro non troppo, the accompaniment is often light and sparing, achieving maximum coloristic effects with minimal scoring (despite the fact that the orchestra is fairly large, with woodwinds in pairs, four horns, three trombones, and a large percussion section). The second theme, marked risoluto, is playful but highly chromatic, with chattering woodwinds accompanying. The main theme returns more than once, like an informal ritornello, in the course of the movement, which Bartók shapes palindromically. Toward the end there is a difficult cadenza almost entirely in double stops and chords. Given the importance of variation technique to Bartók's musical rhetoric, it's interesting to note that aside from a few piano pieces, this concerto's second movement is his only large-scale essay in theme-and-variations form. With soft taps from the tympani beneath, the soloist brings forth the tender and limpid theme that is then treated to six highly differentiated variations. The brusque unison string phrases that open the finale are related to the five-note motif heard at the work's outset. They are answered by the soloist's capricious variant of the opening theme. The themes of the first movement have been, in Bartók's characteristic fashion, elaborated and extended, but their relationship to the first movement is always clear, not least because the structure of the finale closely follows that of the Allegro non troppo. Particularly charming is a waltz-like version of the theme that occurs before the final rush to climax, in which the five-note motif is transformed into the more emphatic four-note phrase (B-A-D-B) that ends the work. Bartók's original ending, in which the soloist was silent during the concluding tutti, was rejected by Székely, who wanted a finish that was more like a concerto instead of a symphony. Bartók obliged with an alternate ending, which is the one generally used, but he appended the original ending to the published score. It features some fearsome forte arpeggios for the three trombones.

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