Kenneth Leighton: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 12
Allegro con brio (Molto ritmico)
Intermezzo: Moderato con moto
Scherzo: Allegro molto e nervoso
Epilogo: Lento sostenuto ed intenso
The Violin Concerto, first performed in May 1953 in the Third Programme by Frederick Grinke with the St. Cecilia Orchestra under Trevor Harvey, dates from the Spring of 1952. It was written in Italy, under strong emotional compulsion, in the space of three weeks, and is prefixed by some verses of Ada Negri which can be roughly translated 'Today I seek you, and do not find you; you are neither in me nor near me, nor do I know what fault I have committed that you have punished me in the light of your presence'. While reflecting the spirit of the whole work (whose themes - particularly in their 'soaring' upward movement and the significance of moves of a semitone - are interrelated in the four movements), the verses throw particular light on the concluding slow Epilogue, which is the emotional climax of the concerto. The work is a true concerto in the demands it makes on the soloist, yet at the same time it avoids all empty display. The solo part contains little, if anything, that is not thematic, and with much cunning interplay between violinist and orchestra the whole strongly felt argument is expressed with a conciseness and authority that augur extremely well for this composer's future.
The urgent, uprising theme which opens the Allegro con brio at once creates a mood of restless striving. The slightly less busy second subject (announced by the solo violin espressivo and piano) uses all twelve semitones of the chromatic scale as if it were a Schonbergian note-series, but the composer has emphatically stated that this was pure coincidence, that he is note a 'twelve-note' composer, and that all the themes in the work were entirely spontaneous and uncalculated. The cadenza comes as the climax of the development section; the orchestra takes up the soloist's final trills, with arresting effect, by way of a lead back into the recapitulation, in which section the second subject claims attention before the first. Tension is slightly relaxed in the following Intermezzo, though its leading theme (again of strongly marked musical personality) maintains the striving upward movement characteristic of the whole work as it climbs a note higher in each of its opening bars. There is a strong kinship between this theme and the two episodes with which it alternates. The third movement is a Scherzo and Trio, in which the word nervoso qualifying the Allegro molto is the best clue to the kind of highly strung brilliance required in the Scherzo, while the ironico written above the jaunty Trio leaves no doubt as to the composer's mood here. The deeply expressive final Epilogue has the strongest thematic links with the material of the opening movement, and by means of eloquent cantilena from the soloist, solemnly reiterated drum strokes and much sympathetic support from the whole orchestra, rises from a brooding start to an impassioned climax of yearning before sinking into final despair.
© Kenneth Leighton