A Violin Concerto or Three
Sarah Chang
EMI Classics CDC 54753

The concerto is likely the most demanding work ever written for a musician.  I won't begin to explain why other than patting your head and rubbing your stomach is kids stuff in comparison.  The physical demands on a violinist are extreme.  Anyway, given that violinists love what they do and since composers also like to push them to their limits, someone invented the violin concerto to show off both their music writing ability and the ability of the performer.  The violin concerto is a tremendously popular style with nearly every major composer writing at least one.  If you recall, there is a common structure to the concerto and it consists of three sections or movements with the 1st and 3rd movement being fast and the 2nd movement slow in tempo.  I think my favorite is Pyotr (Peter) Tchaikovsky's violin concerto.  This 35 minute work is simply delightful and is a must have in any collection.  My favorite performance is by a very young Sarah Chang who recorded this work at about age 13.  This remarkable young woman continues to thrill and enchant from the youngest to even the most curmungeonly of codgers myself included.  I most recently heard her at a concert playing Dvorak's Violin concerto.  Simply wonderful.  I will leave it to you to read the liner notes for EMI's 1993 recording CD 0777 7 54753 2 6 for more details regard Ms. Chang.  Listen to the first movement and notice the changes in mood, color and style.  Notice how the theme is repeated and changed throughout.  How a 13 year old can put so much emotion in music is almost beyond comprehension.  Her performance is one of the few that can bring me to tears of joy.  I believe that you will find it as thrilling and rewarding as I do.

Paganini image
EMI Classics CDC 55026

As long as we are speaking of virtuosos, there was a very unusual man by the name of Paganini that was so talented that people argued whether or not he was possessed.  One reviewer claimed that it was impossible for him to be possessed by the Devil as he was the Devil.  Fairly high praise I would say.  Paganini lived the life of a rock star with wine, women, food, and great gobs of money paid for his performances.  One could say he was quite comfortable.  He wrote a few violin concertos and all are worth owning.  I doubt that anyone since his time is able to play with the speed he did.  His music is rather exciting, light hearted, and fun to listen to.  The recordings that are good are on the DG label and are DG 415378-2. 

mutter concerto
DG 471633-2

Ludwig von Beethoven like other composers wrote a violin concerto.  Oddly enough he only wrote one.  I happen to like what Ms. Anne-Sofie Mutter does for this work.    It is entirely possible that you might find this piece a bit boring at the beginning but the real surprise comes at the arrival of the third movement.   On the DG recording I am going to recommend, there are also the two Romances written by LVB.  LVB's second romance is quite popular with radio and TV commercial producers.  The DG number is DG 289 471 349-2.  This CD is very good and is a part of my permanent collection.  While Beethoven is better known for his sonatas and symphonies this may be a good introduction to LVB.  These works have  many of the characteristics of his symphonies.   This CD is required in any collection as far as I am concerned.  If I find a better performance I will amend this section.  I wonder why LVB never wrote any more romances as they are nice.  Maybe it was too painful for him as he never found a woman he could settle down with.  Many times the relationship would end of his own volition.  He was in love once to someone he called his "Immortal Beloved".  Somehow I think the translation from german to english fails in this case but I think you get the idea.  That relationship failed too.  Tests at Argonne National Labs indicate that he suffered from lead poisoning and it would appear that he died from it.

Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Brahms Violin Concertos
McDuffy-concerto Mutter Concerto Mutter CD Image
Telarc CD 80402 DG 445515-2 DG 457075-2

Felix Mendelssohn wrote a popular violin concerto as did Max Bruch.  These works are so popular they more often that not you will find both on the same CD.  Mendelssohn's concerto has been used in a great many movies, TV, and the like for many years.   I have no less than 4 different recordings of these concertos.  I am torn between 2 recordings.  Telarc's CD-80507 with Robert McDuffy performing and DG's 445 515-2 with Ms. Mutter performing Mendelssohn's concerto along with Johannes Brahms violin concerto.  I will at this point in time advise you to get the Telarc CD.   Speaking of Brahms, he wrote one of the most popular tunes ever known.  His lullaby has been sung by mothers to their infant children for years.  It is a tune that nearly every child knows.  In fact it is so well known that seldom is it on a classical CD.  Now that is the definition of popular.  Brahms violin concerto is probably best heard on DG 457 075-2 which will give you not only Brahms but Schumann's Fantasie as well.  This recording is of Ms Mutter playing the violin.  If you have all the CDs I have mentioned, you now have 2 versions of Brahms violin concerto.  Listen to both and see which one you happen to like best. 

EMI CDC 56418

Here is another great concerto by Jean Sibelius.  Highly recommended!

Before I burn out the violin concerto let try something else familiar and maybe not so familiar.