The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) aspired to be a virtuoso violinist, but abandoned that career because he felt that he had begun his “training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.” But it must have been some consolation that his violin concerto of 1904/1905—his only concerto—is one of the most inspired works of that genre in the repertoire.
There are many fine recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, but one I am especially fond of is a 1951 recording with Isaac Stern and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
Here’s the conclusion of the work, nicely illustrating the passion and energy of this performance by Stern and Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic despite the primitive recording technology available at the time. Just goes to show that there were some remarkable recordings made more than 70 years ago!
While we’re on the topic of violin concertos, here are the best I’ve heard, in chronological order of their composition. Seek them out and enjoy!
Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 – Johann Sebastian Bach (c. 1730)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 – Ludwig van Beethoven (1806)
Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64 – Felix Mendelssohn (1844)
Violin Concerto No. 8 in D major, op. 99 – Charles-Auguste de Bériot (c. 1845)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 – Max Bruch (1867)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 – Johannes Brahms (1878)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1878)
Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 – Antonín Dvořák (1879)
Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47 – Jean Sibelius (1905)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 19 – Sergei Prokofiev (1917)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 63 – Sergei Prokofiev (1935)
Violin Concerto, op. 14 – Samuel Barber (1939)
Violin Concerto in D minor – Aram Khachaturian (1940)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1945)
Violin Concerto in C major, op. 48 – Dmitry Kabalevsky (1948)
And, outstanding violin concerto movements:
Intermezzo (Poco adagio) [2nd & final movement] from Violin Concerto, op. 33 – Carl Nielsen (1911)
Sicilienne (Andantino) [2nd movement] from Concierto de estío, for violin and orchestra – Joaquín Rodrigo (1943)
Curious as to why so many violin concertos are written in the key of D major? I was.
“D major is well-suited to violin music because of the structure of the instrument, which is tuned G D A E. The open strings resonate sympathetically with the D string, producing a sound that is especially brilliant. This is also the case with all other orchestral strings.” – Wikipedia entry for D major