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When it comes to violin concertos, we are almost spoilt for choice. The works of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruck, Sibelius, Berg, Bartok and Shostakovich come easily to mind; but so too should this masterpiece by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Concerto Accademico was written during 1924-5 and was dedicated to Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi who played at the premiere of the work in November 1925. In 1951 Vaughan Williams changed its title to a Concerto for Violin & String Orchestra . The original title reflected its neo-classical interests with the ‘Back to Bach’ movement in full swing during that decade, a movement that embraced composers as diverse as Igor Stravinsky ( Pulcinella ) and Gustav Holst ( Fugal Concerto ). More specifically, the Concerto Accademico looks lovingly backward to Bach’s Concerto in D minor for two violins.

Taken as a whole, the
Concerto Accademico courts not only formalism, but a certain kind of austerity. Yet, at its heart, lies an adagio which is anything but dry or academic; indeed, it’s quite the opposite with its yearning, expansive, even mysterious reach. Admittedly, the movement may not exhibit the overt, virtuosic, lyrical sweetness of A Lark Ascending,
with its direct acknowledgment of George Meredith’s paean to a skylark, or the ripe sensuality of
Flos Campi (for viola, small orchestra and choir) inspired by The Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. However, this marvellous work, eschewing any literary reference, is perhaps one of the greatest in the composer’s canon.

This recording features the late André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with James Buswell as soloist.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams