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Laurie Niles

2012 Tournament, Round 1, Day 2: Brahms Violin Concerto vs. Barber Violin Concerto

March 13, 2012 at 5:19 PM

It's the second day of our Concerto Tournament, and as we saw yesterday, every vote is important! In our first vote, Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" squeaked past Mozart's Concerto No. 5 by a tiny percentage: 51 to 49 percent! They were neck-and-neck all day long.

Today we have another difficult decision: the Brahms Violin Concerto vs. the Barber Violin Concerto.

Brahms Barber

Here are a few things for you to consider, and please add your own thoughts about these pieces in the comments below:

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms

Written in 1878, Brahms dedicated his violin concerto to the great Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, his good friend who collaborated closely with the composer and wrote the cadenza which is still most frequently played. I love the hilarious criticism by Hans von Bülow, who said after hearing its premiere that it was a concerto "against the violin." It is so very Brahmsian (to me, that's a good thing…) long, symphonic, rich and beautiful.

Here we have Julia Fischer again, playing with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the North German Symphony Orchestra .

Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro non troppo (btw, after the orchestral intro, the violin entrance is at 3:35) :

Part 2: more Movement 1:
Part 3: rest of Movement 1 and cadenza:
Part 4: Movement 2, Adagio:
Part 5: Movement 3, Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace -- Poco più presto:

Violin Concerto, Op. 14 by Samuel Barber

Written by Barber in 1939 for Curtis Institute school mate, Iso Briselli, there was all sorts of fuss over whether this piece was adequate for the artist, for the person who commissioned it, etc. Complaints included the idea that the first two movements were too easy; then the last was too difficult; the last movement didn't match the first two, etc. Briselli even declined to premiere the piece. Barber held to his convictions about the piece and didn't alter a thing. Aren't we glad? This concerto begins with two movements of lush, beautiful violin music, followed by a totally crazy-difficult third movement -- full of land mines in performance, but exhilarating when negotiated well.

I chose Gil Shaham's version of this one, live with the BBC Orchestra, David Robertson conducting. Gil's 1994 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and Andre Previn is what made me really fall in love with this piece in the first place, and it remains one of my all-time favorite recordings of anything.

Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro; and the first part of Movement 2, Adagio:

Part 2, more Movement 2; and Movement 3, Presto in moto perpetuo:

Vote here:

From Michael Pijoan
Posted on March 13, 2012 at 8:54 PM
I love the way Julia Fischer plays Brahms.
From Stephen Symchych
Posted on March 13, 2012 at 11:21 PM
BTW, Briselli has a website somewhere that specifically denies the rumor that he found the last movement too difficult. According to him, that story was dreamed up by the work's publisher some years after the composition.

His own view as reported much later (and earlier, I suppose) is that the last movement was too trivial when compared to the first two. It's still pretty cool, but I can see why some might want to turn it into a Scherzo or work on it more to make it a satisfactory finale.

Anyway, Barber was in a period of personal difficulty when all this happened, and--thinking the movement was just fine as it was-- moved on to other compositions.

From marjory lange
Posted on March 13, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Laurie, just to clarify--we are voting on the concertos themselves, not the particular performances?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 13, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Yes, vote on the concertos themselves. I'm just providing an example ( and I'm kind of limited to YouTube!). Please feel free to share which are your favorite performances, too!
From Terry Hsu
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 1:09 AM
The amazing Heifetz Brahms concerto with Fritz Reiner. I think this might be my favorite Heifetz recording.

When Ida Haendel talks about how Heifetz played like fire, I think of this recording especially. Technique dripping off the fingers and such incredibly nuanced rubato and tempo changes. And the orchestra was just amped up during this recording.

From Emma Brown
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 1:52 AM
Oh my goodness. Brahms looks exactly like my band director.
From Terry Hsu
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 2:23 AM
Does your band director wear bowties?
From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 3:39 AM
Emma, expect the band director to be sporting a waist-length beard one of these days.
From Bob Leonard
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 4:29 AM
i <3 Barber....end of story
From Simon Streuff
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 9:48 AM
Kavakos' Brahms
From Karis Crawford
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Gosh, this was a hard one for me! I had to go with Brahms in the end because it really makes my heart pound in places ... so gutsy and rich. Barber is gorgeous as well and I LOVE the last movement, but Brahms tops it for me!
From sharelle taylor
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 11:36 AM
So far, order has returned to the universe.
From Terry Hsu
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 1:50 PM

I love that Kavakos recording. But I think I'll stand by the Heifetz recording. :)

It's sort of like a violinist nuclear cold war. Both sides can do the job. :)


From Simon Streuff
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 3:17 PM
Terry, but kavakos does it still in live! ;) heard him in dezember with brahms! unbelievable!

btw Julia Fischer is great too!!!

From Terry Hsu
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 4:27 PM
I'll be the first person in line if Kavakos comes to Portland. I would love to hear him!! The same goes for Julia Fischer too!
From Josh Thomas
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 8:01 PM
Well, I'm glad I'm not alone in voting for Barber, though I did expect to be in the minority.

I'm just not a huge Brahms fan. I know, heresy, right? I don't know, it just always seems like there's too much music for the music, if that makes sense. Which is strange, since I like Mahler. I'm not quite sure what it is.

On the other hand, I absolutely love the Barber concerto. I have Hilary Hahn's recording of it, and the first two movements are absolutely gorgeous. The third movement, of course, is stunning. I could see how you could say it doesn't fit in with the other two movements, but to me it provides good contrast, since there isn't much in the way of fireworks before then.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on March 15, 2012 at 5:45 PM
Thank you for posting a picture of the young, handsome Brahms rather than the bearded, cigar-chomping image we more commonly see.

It's a difficult choice, especially since the first two movements of the Barber sound so sweet. But it's the third movement that tips me toward Brahms. Yes, the Barber is a wonderful display of virtuosity - but Brahms not only gives us a good, solid, meat-and-potatoes ending, but you can hear his name in the violin's opening notes of the last movement:

Johannes BRAHMS!

From Dessie Arnold
Posted on March 19, 2012 at 5:44 AM
When I saw that day two of the contest was between these two, I knew that there was no point in my voting. I LOVE both of these concertos dearly and in no way could decide between them!
From Brent Hudson
Posted on March 19, 2012 at 8:33 PM
The moment the sun collapses into a red dwarf, someone will be playing the Barber and it will still be fresh air in the orchestral world. I listen to Dylana Jenson's recording a lot . . .

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