The Viola Concerto

The CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA was completed in 1929 and carries the dedication “To Christabel” (Christabel McLaren, Lady Aberconway).  It was conceived at the suggestion of Sir Thomas Beecham for English violinist Lionel Tertis. But when Tertis refused to perform it, finding it too “modernist”, composer Paul Hindemith, known also for an excellent violist, gave the first performance on 3 October 1929 with the Henry Wood Orchestra under the baton of the author at the Prom Concerts at the Queen’s Hall in London. The collaboration of these two creative artists marked the beginning of a long-term close friendship and just a short time before Hindemith’s death, in 1963, Walton composed a set of variations on a theme from Hindemith’s Cello Concerto.  After the premiere of the Viola Concerto, which brought enormous success to the young composer, Tertis sent him a letter of apology and the very next year played the concerto at the World Music Days Festival in Liege. The first recording was made by Frederick Riddle with the London Symphony Orchestra, followed by superb performances left by William Primrose, Nobuko Imai, Yuri Bashmet, Paul Neubauer, and some famous violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Kennedy and Maxim Vengerov.

Although cast in the traditional three-movement structure, Walton’s Viola Concerto is remarkable for its different treatment of the correlation between the movements. Usually the final parts are cast in a faster tempo, and the middle one is slow, while here the first movement is Andante and the second is fast, having a scherzo character, something unusual for most concerto pieces. Perhaps Walton was influenced by the First Violin Concerto by Prokofiev, which he liked very much and which also has a slow opening movement, followed by a scherzo as a second movement.

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