The soloist was accompanied by the Menuhin Festival Orchestra, which was conducted by the composer. The piece was made especially for the great violinist and this circumstance influenced the formal conception of the work – the violin, treated as a human voice, plays such a prominent role, that Andrzej Panufnik decided to emphasise the importance of the solo part by only using a string orchestra rather than a symphonic one. He used the following words to describe his idea for the concerto:
I treated the violin as a singing instrument, and I think this is still a valid approach… Therefore, even though I kept my self-imposed discipline of sound organisation, I chiefly constructed long and uninterrupted melodic lines. In order to strongly expose the solo part and maintain its main role I chose a small orchestra set, which consisted only of string instruments. (Warsaw Autumn 1979 – programme book, p. 151)
By complying with these assumptions the composer shows the beauty of the violin’s sound, which he emphasises with the homogeneous timbre of the string orchestra. The virtuosity of the solo part was subordinated to the accentuation of the expressive and cantilena values. The foremost role in the composition’s course is played by melodic qualities, which not only dominate the remaining musical elements but also determine the shape of the composition – like in a classical concerto. This brings to mind motific work and theme transformation. Panufnik also referenced traditional genre concepts when he chose a formal, 3 part structure, in which the 1st part (Rubato) is formed along the principle of the thematic duality of a sonata allegro, the 2nd part (Adagio) has the form of an arched song and the dynamic final, Vivace, with rhythm as an additional form-creating element, serves as a summary of the whole.
Panufnik’s piece is individually characterised by the reduction of the musical material to: three-note cells, which constitute the building matter of large fragments of the 1st part, and to 2 intervals which are the basis of the 2nd and 3rd parts.
In his own commentary to the work the composer wrote that:
The 1st part – the Rubato – starts with a semi-cadence, which is sort of an improvisation based on a three-note cell. This musical material is brought to the orchestra as a background, when the soloist performs a long cantilena. Afterwards a long, syncopated musical thought occurs, which is built from another three-note cell. In the stream of music the cantilena appears again and the part ends with a shortened semi-cadence. The second part – the Adagio – is built from interleaving minor and major thirds […]. In my writing I tried to employ simplicity and a frugality of means, but the poetic content was also important to me as I wanted to offer the soloist the opportunity to express himself through a structure as clear as possible. The third part – the Vivace – continues the exploration of the minor and major thirds. In this part rhythm is exceptionally important, as are the constantly interleaving rhythms, except for the middle section in which the soloist plays a long cantabile sequence on the g string […]. I wanted the soloist to express human feelings of happiness and spontaneity in this section. I also wanted the lead musician to even show a certain kind of sense of humour in this almost danceable part. (Warsaw Autumn 1990 – programme book, p. 47)
In the entire Violin Concerto a deeply emotional atmosphere of nostalgia is predominant. In certain moments, references to Polish folk music may clearly be heard: the 2nd theme in the 1st part resembles a Krakowiak, the main theme of the finale brings to mind an Oberek and the middle Adagio is characterized by typically Slavic melancholy. Keen researchers of Panufnik’s work claim that it also references Karol Szymanowski’s music and they point to the way the solo cadences of the violin are shaped in the 1st part. Others maintain that when the author of the Violin Concerto created the characteristic rubato of the 1st part he drew from Fryderyk Chopin. Panufnik’s rhythmical ease extends however farther than Chopin’s rubato tempo, because in the parts of the solo instrument which are played without an orchestra, there are no bar lines at all.
The piece was inspired by Yehudi Menuhin’s great musical skill, but considering the great emotional content of the work, the composer dedicated the Violin Concerto to his wife – Camilla.
Shortly after the world famous violinist gave the first performance of the piece he recorded it for the EMI label (EMI Classics 5 66121 2 / EMD 5525 LP). In Poland the Concerto was played for the first time by Wanda Wiłkomirska and the Polish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk at the International Contemporary Music Festival Warsaw Autumn on the 20th of September 1979. The work quickly became Panufnik’s most played and recorded composition. In 1990, a recording of the Concerto was made by Krzysztof Śmietana and the London Musici orchestra conducted by Mark Stephenson (Conifer Classics CDCF 182). Five years later, another version was recorded by Robert Kabara and the Sinfonietta Cracovia orchestra conducted by Wojciech Michniewski (DUX 0254).
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, July 2010.