Béla Bartók

Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Sz. 112, BB 117

    Description by Mark Satola

    Bartók's lifelong interest in variation as a compositional stratagem found its fullest expression in this Concerto, which he completed in 1938. Bartók had been at work on the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta when his close friend, violinist Zoltán Székely, asked him for a concerto. Bartók initially planned a large-scale theme-and-variations work, but Székely indicated a preference for a traditional, three-movement work. Bartók's response was ingenious, preserving his own plan for variations within the framework of three movements. The middle movement, Andante tranquillo, follows a traditional theme-and-variations plan, while the finale is a large-scale variant of the first movement. Székely gave the first performance in Amsterdam in 1939, with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg. That premiere was recorded on 78 rpm shellac discs; the recording has been released to the public, and while its sound quality can at best be called poor, it preserves Bartók's own tempo and balance preferences. Over measured B major chords from the harp, punctuated by pizzicato low strings (which sound the five-note motif, B-F sharp-A-E-B, that is the foundation of all the concerto's thematic material), the soloist launches a noble theme in verbunkos rhythm, a long-breathed melody of forthright optimism that immediately places the concerto in Olympian altitudes. In keeping with the Apollonian poise of this Allegro non troppo, the accompaniment is often light and sparing, achieving maximum coloristic effects with minimal scoring (despite the fact that the orchestra is fairly large, with woodwinds in pairs, four horns, three trombones, and a large percussion section). The second theme, marked risoluto, is playful but highly chromatic, with chattering woodwinds accompanying. The main theme returns more than once, like an informal ritornello, in the course of the movement, which Bartók shapes palindromically. Toward the end there is a difficult cadenza almost entirely in double stops and chords. Given the importance of variation technique to Bartók's musical rhetoric, it's interesting to note that aside from a few piano pieces, this concerto's second movement is his only large-scale essay in theme-and-variations form. With soft taps from the tympani beneath, the soloist brings forth the tender and limpid theme that is then treated to six highly differentiated variations. The brusque unison string phrases that open the finale are related to the five-note motif heard at the work's outset. They are answered by the soloist's capricious variant of the opening theme. The themes of the first movement have been, in Bartók's characteristic fashion, elaborated and extended, but their relationship to the first movement is always clear, not least because the structure of the finale closely follows that of the Allegro non troppo. Particularly charming is a waltz-like version of the theme that occurs before the final rush to climax, in which the five-note motif is transformed into the more emphatic four-note phrase (B-A-D-B) that ends the work. Bartók's original ending, in which the soloist was silent during the concluding tutti, was rejected by Székely, who wanted a finish that was more like a concerto instead of a symphony. Bartók obliged with an alternate ending, which is the one generally used, but he appended the original ending to the published score. It features some fearsome forte arpeggios for the three trombones.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro non troppo
    2. Andante tranquillo
    3. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 ABC Classics
    2018 Doremi Records DHR 80258
    2018 Ondine ODE 13172
    2018 Erato 567459
    2018 Erato 0190295708078
    2018 Gramola GRAM 99138
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796220
    2016 Canary Classics CC 16
    2016 Decca 4789311
    2016 Onyx / Onyx Classics 4138
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646480401
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646777051
    2016 SWR Music SWR 19005CD
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875198542
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646130306
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 205
    2015 Avie AVR 2323
    2015 Bmc Records BMH 186
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646140534
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2014 IDIS IDIS 6689
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Brilliant Classics 9436
    2013 Praga PRDDSD 350099
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902146
    2013 Audite 95624
    2013 Helicon Classics / Helicon Records HEL 029667
    2012 Naïve V 5285
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Decca
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 002894779464
    2011 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099964201702
    2011 Erato
    2011 Hungaroton 23509
    2011 Chandos CHAN 10690
    2011 Audite 21407
    2011 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic 94207
    2010 Decca
    2010 PentaTone Classics 5186350
    2010 Decca
    2010 Berlin Classics 0115292
    2010 EMI Classics 6483972
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 001660402
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781149
    2009 Document 231753
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926419
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920688
    2008 EMI Classics 09407
    2008 Warner Classics
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921503
    2008 Music & Arts WHRA 6022
    2007 Supraphon 39242
    2006 Naïve V 4991
    2006 Edel Classics 0002332
    2006 Philips 4757457
    2006 Decca / Universal
    2005 RCA 60749
    2005 Berlin Classics 0011342
    2005 Designo 222592
    2005 Audiophile Records 101519
    2004 Mercury 4756255
    2004 Sony Classical Essential Classics 93095
    2003 Nimbus 5333
    2003 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243585487
    2003 Supraphon 36822
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 85562
    2002 Hungaroton 32061
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 74799
    2002 Virgin 562053-2
    2002 Orfeo 589021
    2002 NM Classics 97016
    2001 Angel Records 69804
    2001 Virgin 45118
    2001 History 205253
    2001 Cypres Records 9612
    2001 Urania 184
    2000 Hungaroton 41002
    2000 Arion 68251
    2000 Music & Arts CD1053
    2000 Philips 456542
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 459639
    1999 Naxos 554321
    1999 NM Classics 97014
    1997 Nimbus 1771
    1996 Praga 250099
    1996 Koch International Classics 7387
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 64502
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 67194
    1995 Supraphon 111956
    1995 Mercury 434350
    1995 Hungaroton 31543
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 83177
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 54211
    1994 Symposium 1142
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 445487
    1993 Philips 438 812-2PM2
    1993 RCA 61675
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47511
    1992 Vox 5505
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 45941
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon 431626
    1990 London 425015
    Deutsche Grammophon 000404902
    Pyramid Records 13486
    Virgin 59062
    Ars Produktion 368319
    Supraphon 110632
    RCA Gold Seal 61395
    RCA 61677
    History 205258
    Cypres Records 9612-7
    One-Eleven 91030
    Denon Records 84494