Friday, July 26, 2013

about Brahms's Violin Concerto

In reading the book Brahms by Malcolm MacDonald (The Masters Musician Series, Schirmer Books, 1990)...

...I came across the following, which is about the Finale of the Violin Concerto:

Brahms had second and third thoughts about the tempo of the last movement: he marked it Allegro giocoso with the qualifying phrase ma non troppo vivace, which he then deleted, and later reinstated -- fortunately, as too quick a tempo robs the principal theme of its characteristic mixture of fiery rhythmic excitement with a curious earthy stateliness, as of a joyous yet heavy-footed peasant dance. This Finale, in a concerto conceived for and dedicated to Joachim, is inevitably a rondo of 'gypsy' bravura, paying homage to Joachim's own Concerto in the Hungarian Manner (dedicated to Brahms). It is however a taut and complex design, owing little to the perpetuum mobile manner of the Finale of Joachim's Concerto, even less to the 'Rondo alla Zingarese' from Brahms's G minor Piano Quartet, but a fair amount to the last movement of that other Joachim-inspired work, the A minor String Quartet, op. 51 no. 2 -- especially in its virtuosic displays of rhythmic variation and syncopation. Subsidiary ideas include a magnificently choleric dotted-rhythm figure in staccato octaves, and a suave dolce tune that is usually described as an entirely new element but is in fact a fairly clear variation of the rondo subject (at least, that is how I have always heard it). After an intoxicating development of the rondo theme proper that elevates the peasant dance into regions of metaphysical hilarity, a brief accompanied cadenza leads to the large and eventful coda, where the tempo finally changes to Poco più presto and the rondo material is wittily transformed into a rollicking bucolic march in 6/8, with the violin elatedly conjuring a stream of fresh variations above it. Eventually the energy dissipates and the violin descends contentedly to earth before the orchestra's last affirmative chords.

That, of course, reminds me of how Jascha Heifetz compromised his otherwise exemplary 1955 recording (with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). He ignored the Finale's qualifying phrase ma non troppo vivace (but not too lively). Heifetz plays it too fast, which constricts or compresses the rhythm, and thereby diminishes the third movement of its charming natural spirit.

This is way-important stuff. Getting the tempo right in the Finale to Brahms's incredible concerto is essential.

Here's how it's done wrong:

Here's how it's done right:

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