commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and the Gulbenkian Foundation
Manoug Parikian, whose playing the composer had admired for many years, asked for the Violin Concerto; and it was dedicated to him. The idea for the opening was conceived by the Thames in London on 31 August 1970 but more substantial melodic ideas arrived during a brief stop in a Hertfordshire apple-orchard on 31 August 1971. At this time the Chamber Concert op.15 had not yet been completed but the first 50 bars of the Violin Concerto were composed in September 1971. Then it was interrupted by the completion of the Chamber Concerto and by wage-earning work and resumed in March 1972. The score was completed in Liverpool on 31 August 1972. The work was commissioned by The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and the Gulbenkian Foundation. The first performance was given on 19 September 1972, in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves. The soloist was Manoug Parikian, who played the work on a number of occasions.
In this work the composer has reverted to the traditional three movements of the concerto, and adheres to the more modern concerto tradition of a fast movement in the middle. The scoring, although for richer orchestral resources - piano and celesta added to a harp, and a large percussion section - is netherless more transparent and altogether sparer than in the Cello Concerto, and the mode of expression is not so full-blooded.
The first movement can be divided into three parts, but overall it also has some features of a sonata exposition. Out of the long high lines of opening B naturals, the solo violin soon detaches itself, and its line slowly, lyrically flutters down from the lonely heights in ever descending spirals until at last the orchestra takes up the high B’s again. A vigorous passage then dissolves into a cadenza, and a second, widely spaced melody forms itself on the solo instrument over a soft trilling flute. This melody works itself up to the central part of the movement, and is eventually submerged in successive waves of orchestral sound towards the climax. A rapid fall towards the violin’s lower register leads to a third part of the movement - a ‘second subject’ group; in the second part of which the orchestral violins frequently have prominent lyrical role. As the solo violin quotes the tritone motto from another work, the opening theme of the movement dies away in the double basses at the end.
The Scherzo is attacca: distant muted trumpets introduce a movement which bears the epigraph ‘flame, sword, flower’. Formally, this is a scherzo-and-trio. But it’s also built around three varied repetitions of a long crescendo on brass, behind swirling strings, which then plunges suddenly to the depths (the ‘sword’ motif). The first of these procedures is at the centre of the scherzo exposition,: the second at the climax of the trio: the third and final one in the reprise of the scherzo, in a ghostly decrescendo form, after which the movement soon extinguishes itself.
The long cadenza is placed at the beginning of the last movement, which is primarily a simple recapitulation of the first. Behind the widely spaced second melody on the solo violin the orchestra gently re-enters. The solo writing gradually ascends to the original heights of the B’s, which are eventually reduced to a single held note played by the leader of the orchestra. But then there is a last moment change of fortune. A tiny rhythmic figure, a tapping and then a leaping response to it together expand into a full, though brief, allegro, and the work ends briskly with a touch of flamboyance.