Haters are going to hate, but I’ve got nothing but love for Sibelius.
After all the hype I tried to generate for Nicola Benedetti playing Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, I thought it would be good to revisit some of the traditional violin concerto repertoire. I will group them by nationality, for no particular reason.
There are two violin concertos from the 20th Century which were written by American composers which also continue to be performed with regularity. Those would be Samuel Barber’s 1939 concerto and Erich Korngold’s 1945 entry.
Sarah Chang plays Sibelius
As you might imagine, the Germans have a strong showing here with top tier entries by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Beethoven, and Max Bruch. My personal favorite of this quartet is Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto. It was most recently performed by Sarah Chang with the San Diego Symphony.
French composers are represented best by Camille Saint-Saëns. He wrote three violin concertos. His third concerto from 1880 can be considered the finest of the three. If we stretch the category just a bit we can include Jules Massenet's “Meditation” from Thais and Berlioz's viola solo-heavy Harold in Italy.
The Italians were prolific during the Baroque era but fell off in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Arcangelo Corelli wrote a few but Antonio Vivaldi wrote hundreds of violin concertos. The Four Seasons is perhaps the best known set of violin concertos in the world.
When it comes to the violin I associate Russia with the instrument. That could be because I saw Fiddler on the Roof at an impressionable age. Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Glazunov, and Khachaturian all wrote for the form but it is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto which remains most popular.
Dvorak’s Violin Concerto is everything that we love about the tuneful Czech. The British have a few entries from the likes Benjamin Britten and Vaughan Williams.
In my opinion the greatest of all violin concertos is by Jean Sibelius. I’m sure more refined minds than mine will want to dispute that claim. Haters are going to hate, but I’ve nothing but love for Sibelius and his violin concerto. It was most recently performed by Karen Gomyo with the San Diego Symphony.