The greatest violin concertos of all time
Here is our selection of the greatest pieces ever written for violin and orchestra. Do you agree?
Since its first appearance in northern Italy in the early 16th century, the violin has been an absolute cornerstone of the classical music repertoire. And, as befitting such a central instrument, the violin has had a huge number of concertos written for it. Here are some of the very best.
The best violin concertos of all time
Bacewicz: Violin Concerto No.3
The Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz wrote no fewer than seven violin concertos, although the Sixth was not published or performed during her lifetime. Among these, it’s quite hard to pick a favourite, though we’ll opt for the Third for its expressive qualities, constant tonal and rhythmic surprises, and successful incorporations of folk styles. Something for fans of Prokofiev, Bartók, Szymanowski and other adventurous 20th-century fiddle concertos.
Bach: Violin Concerto in A minor
Either one of Bach’s two concertos for solo violin could have made our list, as could the wonderful Concerto for Two Violins. If pushed, we might just select the A minor Concerto, which is blessed with one of classical music’s most arresting openings, with the violin grabbing the music by the scruff of the neck shortly after the orchestral introduction.
The slow movement is sighingly beautiful, and then there’s that wonderfully carefree, exuberant Finale – in the style of a Gigue, in case you’re wondering.
Recommended recording: Hilary Hahn (violin), Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra / Jeffrey Kahane (Deutsche Grammophon)
Barber: Violin Concerto
When Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto was premiered in 1941, 20th-century Modernism was at something of a high water mark in classical music. However, you wouldn’t know it from this beautiful, lyrical concerto, which looks back to composers such as Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.
The first movement is sweet-toned and vigorous; the second has a plangent quality that can bring out goose pimples in the right performance, and a major-key resolution that can feel quite overwhelming.
Recommended recording: Gil Shaham (violin), London Symphony Orchestra / André Previn (Deutsche Grammophon).
Bartók: Violin Concerto No.2
If you listen closely enough, you’ll be able to detect that Bartók’s second Violin Concerto is, in fact, an extended sequence of variations across three movements. If you don’t feel the need to dive in that deeply, though, you can simply enjoy what is a wonderfully agile and lively concerto. Soulful and playful by turns, it has episodes of dissonance: however, it’s dominated by enticing melodies and a lively energy taken from folk music.
Recommended recording: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Finnish Radio Symphony orchestra / Hannu Lintu (Ondine).