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Brahms lived and worked under the shadow of Beethoven throughout his career. Brahms was very conscious of this – indeed, it was one of the main reasons why he took so long to compose a symphony – and in the case of this violin concerto, there is an obvious parallel to be made between the two composers’ works.
Both wrote only one concerto for this most popular of instruments. Neither had any personal experience of playing the violin and therefore had to rely heavily on others to interpret the music and to guide its progress. And, despite all this, both composed a violin concerto that would end up in every great soloist’s repertoire, and in every lover of the instrument’s CD collection.
In Brahms’s case, the inspiration and guide for the piece was his great friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The raw and rugged sound of the outer movements is contrasted with an Adagio of exquisite, silky beauty, with an intimacy that very few composers have truly been able to create. Nowadays, it remains as one of only a handful of violin concertos that, along with Beethoven’s, simply has to be performed by any world-class violinist.
Vadim Repin (violin); Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly (conductor). Deutsche Grammophon: 477 7470.
Illustration: Mark Millington