Of all the major compositions of William Alwyn, I have personally found the Violin Concerto the least satisfying. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, it is a long work lasting nearly forty minutes, yet there is a seeming imbalance between movements – the first being as long as the second and third combined. Secondly, I believe that the ‘finale’ is less effective than the preceding movements and never quite fulfils their challenge. Finally, I guess that there could be a suggestion that the ‘cinema’ is never too far away from this music: it is a criticism - if it is a criticism rather than an observation - that has also been made of the slightly later First Symphony (review).
The opening ‘allegro’ is truly massive - and involves a considerable diversity of musical material – some of it absolutely ravishing. A great deal of this movement is reflective and, rather unusually, it ends quietly. The middle ‘allegretto e semplice’ is really a ‘song without words’ complete with a ‘haunting Irish-tinged theme’. The final allegro is an ‘alla marcia’ which is full of energy and exploits the soloist’s technique to the full.
The history of this Concerto is unfortunate. The composer never heard a full performance of it. He had to ‘make-do’ with a private concert on 3 March 1940 where a violin and piano reduction was used. Frederick Grinke, the Canadian-born violinist was accompanied by the composer. Henry Wood had been keen to perform this work during the 1943 Promenade Concert series; however after three days consideration, the ‘powers that be’ at the BBC rejected this proposal. The work was put away and was largely forgotten until the 1993 Chandos recording with Lydia Mordkovitch (CHAN9187).
Having raised my ‘concerns’ about this concerto, I have to confess that there is much beautiful, attractive and ultimately satisfying music in its pages. Coupled with this, the committed and often moving performance given by Lorraine McAslan makes this an impressive offering that rises above any suggestions of stylistic imbalance. It is a work that, in spite of any perceived faults, is lyrical, full of ideas, has well-considered writing for the soloist and a general sense of musical competence. Certainly much of this work is romantic with the composer often wearing his heart on his sleeve. It has even been compared to Elgar’s great Concerto! It is a work that could grow on me.
The Violin Concerto is available on NAXOS 8.570705 with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd Jones
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.