Today's violin (sonata) recital programming compared with recital programs of the past.

February 23, 2009 at 04:08 AM ·

I have noticed an increasing trend amongst violinists today to play entire sonata programs. The term 'violin recital' seems to be a thing of the past.

I'm kind of puzzled as to how this has happened.  Everyone I've talked to (violinists and fans) love hearing the 'meaty' repertoire like the Kreutzer Sonata, but in addition, many have told me that they enjoy hearing pieces like the Jamaican Rumba by Benjamin or the Habanera by Sarasate on a program too.  

What's everyone's opinion on why the increasing trend amongst today's violinists is to relegate showpieces as maybe encores and dominate a program with sonatas? When did violinists stop playing concertos with piano in recital?  I have copy and pasted a recent recital program of violinist Christian Tetzlaff to illustrate this growing trend of programming contrasted with Jascha Heifetz's last recital program in 1972:


LEO JANACEK Sonata for Violin and Piano
JOHANNES BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Violin Sonata in F Major, K. 377
FRANZ SCHUBERT Rondo in B Minor, D. 895, "Rondo brillant"

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA, 1972

FRANK Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major
STRAUSS Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 18
J.S. BACH Preludio, Loure, and Gigue (From Partita No.3, BWV1006, in E)
BLOCH Nigun (Improvisation) (No.2, Baal Shem)
DEBUSSY La Plus Que Lente
RACHMANINOFF/HEIFETZ Etude-Tableau, Op.33, No.4 in E flat
DE FALLA Nana (Berceuse) (No.5, Seven Popular Spanish Songs)
KREISLER La Chasse (In The Style Of Cartier)
RAVEL Tzigane (Rapsodie De Concert)

Replies (47)

February 23, 2009 at 04:41 AM · Part of it would probably be that many concerti NEED an orchestra to do the accompaniment justice. And keyboardists who can make a great tone with the breadth of dynamic and character necessary, and that you can work with on a regular basis are rather difficult to find. Also, in todays market and environment things have to be played perfectly-and artists really cannot afford to take risks of performing lots of rep that are anything less than they make up for such in other ways. As for show pieces not being on violin recitals, there will be 2 (TWO) Paganini caprices on my master's and NO solo Bach (it was amazingly easy swinging that one actually ;>)

February 23, 2009 at 09:28 PM ·

I agree with you that not all concertos would work well with piano.  I realize that concertos on a recital program may be a rarity, but my main question is, why are most recitals dominated with sonatas?  When did this begin to happen?   The recitals themselves are programmed in such a way that the more appropriate term to describe them would  be 'duo recitals' as opposed to 'violin recitals' in my opinion.  With regards to your comments about things having to be played as perfectly as possible, sure I agree with you on that, but hasn't that almost always been the case on the large concert stages?  I can find plenty of sonatas for violin and piano that require lots of technique to play on both ends such as the Beethoven Kreutzer, the Franck, Corigliano, or the Saint-Saens D minor. 

Here are another few examples of the change in recital program trends from Efrem Zimbalist's debut in 1907 to recent recitals of Mutter, and Midori.

Efrem Zimbalist's debut recital program in Berlin (1907)

Vitali Chaconne

Henri Wieniawski Legende

Riccardo Drigo's Harlequin Serenade

Christian Sinding's Suite

Glazunov Concerto.


Anne-Sophie Mutter, Violin
Lambert Orkis, Piano

(2008 recital, New York, NY)

Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108


MIDORI, violin

(recital from 2008, Los Angeles, CA)

DVORÁK Romantic Pieces, Op. 75
FRANCK Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano
BEETHOVEN Sonata in A major, Op. 30, No. 1
CORIGLIANO Sonata for Violin and Piano

February 23, 2009 at 09:23 PM ·

Why sonatas?

If you're not going to go in for concerti, due to limitations of the pieces are stressfull to work up in volume enough to fill a recital...what are you left with?  When you don't know what kind of audience to expect in terms of musical experience, sonatas are a fairly safe bet that anyone can enjoy and appreciate-regardless of age or taste.

...violinists in the house might want more fire and showiness-but show pieces are a mixed bag in terms of what people might or might not appreciate and addition to the stress on the part of the performer.  Kids in primary school can appreciate most sonatas--most kids will not appreciate Paganini without at least a bit of theatrical explanation by the performer, which performers seldom go in for-they show up play and usually expect the audiene to read a 1 paragraph blurb that says very little.

February 23, 2009 at 09:29 PM ·

Nate, I'm glad you took this up as it has been disturbing me a long time.  If you ask an average concert goer, he or she would almost certainly prefer to hear a program consisting max. two sonatas filled up with a few short pieces.  There is really no shortage of such repertoire.  Readers can choose between novels, short stories and poetry.

February 23, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·


personally I find it really heavy going to listen to three Brahms sonatas in one program....  But here in Japan the situation is a litlte differnet.   Although we get some top players such as Perlman and Midori doing balanced programs much of the so called recitals I atend or see advertized are marketed in terms of being cutsie pie.  And although I love Zigeunerweisen,  Monti Czardas  and the best known Kreilse rpieces I really do wnat to hera soemthing differnet every now and again.

I do think a misplaced snobbery has evolved about certain kinds of music and composers that contributes to the situation. Its a bit like `oh,  the 19th century violin comosers weer shallow so lets not play them anymore.`  Right on,  scrub the 19th century.   But is a poorly written piec eof 18th century violin music any better-  only because someone with a bow bent in the wrong direction says so...... So this stuff gets treated by teachers as `steppign stones to real music,`   and so after bashing through some odds and ends thre embryonic virtuouso tries to hone their tehcnique on the Mendelssohn   and Beethoven and,  in my opinion,  more often than not they would have been a lot better off being able to actually play those works befor eplaying them ;)

In the meantime the snobbery is passed down by the teacher who writes off a work like Viuextemps Ballade and Polonaise as a student piece and the end result is such a work is hardly ever played.  Even though great musicians like Huberman and Szigeti were quite happy to program this stuff along with incredibly deep  and searching views of Bach and Mozart.  And is todays Bach really that much more profound as a result of eschewing bumfluff?   Its certainly a lot faster but seems to me to more or less lack the amazing variety of expression and articulation that for example one finds in Huberman playing the e major concerto and finding things in it that many of todays top player shave nevr even dreamed of.

Oooops,  I seem to be out of control again.


February 23, 2009 at 11:01 PM ·

Nate, i have been wondering about this for sometime. Personally, my ideal program would be filled with one sonata or one concerto and then encore pieces to fill the rest of the time. The encores does even have to be show pieces. They can be pieces like Frimi's Indian love call, Drdla's Souvenir, Poldini's Poupee valsante and Anchron's Hebrew melody. All masterpieces but short and interesting.

February 23, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

There are lots of great pieces (especially virtuoso collaborations) that are not touched by today's recitalists.  Hopefully the series on 19th century violinist composers will help to take care of this.  Down the road, Misha Keylin will be recording the grand duos of Vieuxtemps in collaboration with Kullak, Gregoir, Wolff, Magnus, and Erkel.  These are great pieces that will hold audience attention with their equal virtuosity for both players and great singing lines (what more do you want?)...for a recital there are so many great pieces that can be mixed in with sonatas.  Check my short list

As far as a program of all "serious" all sonata program (for example) would be something to dread if not played by the finest violinist.  I would suggest checking in with Europe for more varied programs...for instance Ingolf Turban includes the de Beriot Tremolo Caprice in his programs with great success along with the Vieuxtemps-Wolff Don Juan.

Maybe a violinist feels more important if playing only sonatas, as this is very serious business dontchaknow ;-) 

February 23, 2009 at 11:51 PM ·

I agree with Buri that the change is related to a kind of snobbery, but not just snobbery related to the intellectual content of the music. I think another kind of snobbery has evolved as an offshoot of the period practice movement - one which eschews reductions and transcriptions as not representative of the composer's intention - thus eliminating concertos and most showpieces as potential recital repertoire.

February 24, 2009 at 12:57 AM ·

Buri nails it when he says all three Brahms in one recital is "heavy."  Personally I would enjoy it.   Conversely, to me things a lot of people would call trite can be heavy, for a variety of reasons.

But there is stereotypically "heavy" and light music.  I think no one wants to be perceived as a lightweight, and the situation with communication today makes your situation like a  powerful, easy to wreck car, compared to the easy-going Studebakers of yesteryear.  You don't take a chance with your life, eh?  This is my hypotheis, with nothing but intuition behind it :)


February 24, 2009 at 01:32 AM ·


>Conversely, to me things a lot of people would call trite can be heavy, for a variety of reasons.

Jim,   I agree it certainly isn`T black and white.   It is the dull quality of may of the players `doing` three Brahms that creates the problem much of the time.   If it was Schlomo Mintz I would be drooling ver every note although still querying the program design.   On the othe rhand I cannot listen to Wieniawski 2 any more without a horrible sense of opression and constipation,  despite knowing it is relatively good `light music.`



February 24, 2009 at 05:43 AM ·

 I like steak, but I wouldn't care for a meal which had meat loaf for the appetizer, steak for the main course and roast beef for dessert.  I can't understand why some violinists select pieces for their programs which seem to follow the form of the above menu.  I'm so grateful to have heard recitals by Heifetz, Milstein, Elman and others who offered programs which, like the music in them, had beautiful form!  A Brahms Sonata was enjoyed *all the more* because a Vivaldi Sonata was the delightful first course, and later there was a Sarasate piece for dessert.

It takes real artistry, dedication, serious study and exquisite taste to play something like La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin convincingly, full of feeling, rather than tritely or with maudlin sentimentality.  The snobbery which excludes short pieces brings to mind Shakespeare's admonition about " small parts, only small actors."

Personally, I always program short pieces, and try to follow the "good menu" analogy.  I have many times, after playing a recital heard grateful comments about the inclusion of shorter works along with the longer ones.  I've never heard anyone say that he would have preferred to hear another Sonata in place of the group of short pieces.

February 24, 2009 at 02:09 AM ·

Yes Oliver, all steak is no good. There are some other categories:

Health food otherwise known as modern music. It tends to be tasteless, all fiber and it passes right through you leaving only unpleasant memories.

Desert: Very scrumptious concoctions of melodies and rich harmonies but nowadays frequently made with low fat toppings and sugar substitutes. It has a grainy and gummy feel.

Libations: Intoxicating and captivating but mostly nowadays fortified leaving one with a bad headache. (Figuratively, of course, for us teetotalers.)

February 24, 2009 at 02:24 AM · Was that from '72 a typical Heifetz program? If so, we could have answered the question by asking what people thing of that program, not saying whose it was. People might have said it was from a lightweight, non-serious player - I don't know.

February 24, 2009 at 02:55 AM ·

Personally, I would welcome more balanced programming, especially works that are neither major concertos nor sonatas.  There are important works for violin and orchestra that almost never get heard live any more, such as Zigeunerweisen and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.   Orchestras won't waste their time with them, but soloists in recital won't stoop to play them with piano accompaniment.  And when I listen to a recording of, say Milstein, playing small works for violin and piano, it seems to me that the art of great violinists can transform these slight works into transcendental musical experiences through their mastery of the instrument and their musical imagination; yet these works never get performed live any more.  Joshua Bell is one violinist who does perform these small works to some extent, but in his most recent recital even he programmed four sonatas and saved the Meditation from Thais for an encore.

February 24, 2009 at 03:42 AM · Nate, The other thought that also comes to mind, is that nowadays a concertizing artist is concertizing FAR more often than back in even in 1950. Any contemporary concert artist probably has shows on a weekly time table as well as rehearsals. And to put together bills of show pieces given the compacted time table is hard. Back in the good old days performers had a month or more to work up for a show, as opposed to now.

February 24, 2009 at 03:52 AM ·

"And to put together bills of show pieces given the compacted time table is hard. Back in the good old days performers had a month or more to work up for a show, as opposed to now. "

Don't contemporary performers usually work up a single program or a limited number of works and then travel around presenting essentially the same works everywhere?

February 24, 2009 at 04:37 AM · Fair enough Bill, but 1 violin sonata is much less stress and work to put on than 3 or 4 show pieces. For better and worse it is a far safer approach to filling a bill...a sonata is also more likely to be a consistent crowd pleaser.

February 24, 2009 at 05:18 AM ·


the other things is that there are also works which don`t fit the categories discusse dso far.  One of my favorite examples is the set of four pieces Opus 17 by Suk.  The Burlesque was an encore favorite of yore ,  recorded by Milstein,  Ricci and maybe Rabin. (?)   Ginette Neveu reocrded the Quasi Ballade.   However,  nowadays we never seem to here one let alone all four of these wonderful pieces.    I thnk a violnist who labored mightly to perfetc these four instead of wallowng around in a slighlty too diffcult major cocnerto would imprve a fantastic amount.



February 24, 2009 at 12:00 PM ·

Buri: Neveu recorded the 4 Suk pieces (I've it), and she was absolutely extraordinary. I know no better


February 24, 2009 at 12:09 PM ·

"Buri: Neveu recorded the 4 Suk pieces (I've it), and she was absolutely extraordinary. I know no better"

That's exactly the problem.  You can hear these pieces on recordings made 50 years ago but not live.

February 24, 2009 at 12:24 PM ·


This is an interesting question.  I used to do recitals with half sonatas and then some shorter pieces, but I was forced to change.  I think part of the trend is due to pianists who prefer to play repertoire that is on an equal footing with the violinist.  And sonatas are more interesting for them.  In the case of Robert McDonald, I can see why - he is a fantastic artist.

Even in recent times, I remember doing the Suite Much Ado About Nothing by Korngold because the piano part was interesting, but having had to include unaccompanied works because the pianist did not want to play something "inferior."

As for when the tradition changed, it was in the 1990's somewhere, at least for modern times.  But going back in time, it was Ysaÿe and Raoul Pugno who first came up with the concept of sonata recitals and did many, commissioning many new works.  I think that even back in the day, the short pieces recital was more of an American affair than a European one (one can read some criticism of Heifetz's programming during the first stops on his first European tour).

All this said, I do get the pianist's point of view, and kind of agree with it, so I have no objections to finding works that they find interesting as well.


February 24, 2009 at 02:54 PM ·

So, you have to forget playing Paganini, Sarasate, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps and others, in consideration to your pianist?

February 24, 2009 at 03:54 PM ·

Nate -  I think you can thank Isaac Stern for the change in format.  In his book,  My First 79 Years, Stern speaks about when he first came out in the 30's, the soloists programs consisted of concerti and showpieces.  Stern stopped playing concerti in recitals by the 40's because he felt that there was enough good violin and piano repertore.  Keep in mind he was performing Hindemith, Pendercki and other composers that other violinists of the day would not touch.  He paved the way for the curious mind of people like  Kremer, Tetzlaff and Mutter.  By the 50's and 60's, many of his colleagues followed suit.


BTW, I love the old format and always include 2 or 3 vignettes in a program if not more.

February 24, 2009 at 04:19 PM ·

In the 30s and 40s.,nearly every violin recital included Wieniawski's Souvenir de Moscow. Today, I think nobody plays it live.

February 24, 2009 at 08:57 PM ·

In the usual break from tradition, Paul Rosenthal chose to open his last concert with the lollipops, playing two or three "encore" showpieces  first, and then proceeding with a couple of sonatas.   "Life is too unpredictable, so tonight we will begin with dessert."    

 I personally lack the attention span for most sonatas.

February 24, 2009 at 11:13 PM ·

They do sonata concerts because they can!

The change in recital programming parallels the change in recorded media capacity, programming and sales.

When i was young and violin/piano concerts contained many of the souvenir pieces, recordings were either 10-inch or 12-inch 78rpm disks. It was tough to find (or condense) a piece of music to fit on one side. That's the music people bought and that's what they wanted to have as part of the concerts they attended. Besides, violinists were prized for their flashy abilities. (Remember the guy who played it behind his back -and under his leg??)

Now collections of the souvenir (and virtuoso) pieces comprise relatively few classical recordings. People have broader tastes - at least enough of them to populate the venues in which sonata recitals are played.

But it is still great to hear some of the old chestnuts - book a cruise that is going to have a visiting violinist - you'll hear enough of those to last you a few years ---- or play them yourself.


February 25, 2009 at 12:43 AM ·

Glad you brought up this topic, Nate! I think that this trend actually goes back to the period following World War II. Some influential critics and musicians started to feel that this was a time for more gravitas. Beautiful miniatures came to be viewed as frivolous. The composer and critic, Virgil Thompson actually accused Heifetz of playing silk underwear music! I think that some major performers today may somehow feel that playing showpieces is beneath their stature as Important Artistes. Well, I happen to think that many otherwise consumate instrumentalists and serious musicians also lack the flair and style needed to bring out the charm of these wonderful miniatures. An evening of sonatas to me is a joint or duo recital - not a violin recital. There's a place for such a program now and then. But I certainly bemoan the fact that this sort of program has all but supplanted the more balanced violin recital - the kind that most audiences love. As others have said, I don't want a meal consisting only of main courses. If you haven't proved what a serious musician you are with say, two substansive sonatas, you're not going to prove it with two more.

Christian - I feel that we should always respect, but not kow-tow to a pianist. When they share the expenses they can share the repertoire decisions. If we're paying them to do our recital, they should be willing to do whatever program we choose. If they feel "above" that, then we should get another pianist. We actually make their life easier by programming some show pieces. While we're sweating bullets and doing summersaullts on a tightrope in say a Saraste number, they're playing a very easy part, and can just concentrate on balance, ensemble, etc.

As to concertos I applaud your efforts, Nate (-in case you didn't know, folks, Nate is an excellent young violinist-) but I always miss the orchestra - especially in piano reductions of more heavily scored works. Even in a recital about 10(?) years ago by one of our heroes, Aaron Rosand, when he played the Bruch Scotish Fantasy, I stil missed the orchestra. But no one has waxed more eloquent on this topic (-show pieces on recitals-) than Rosand, himself, on the liner notes to a couple of his records -particularly  on his Sarasate and his uncacompanied albums. I have the original LP's to these. I hope his notes have been transfered to his CD's.

In closing I'll indulge myself by sharing just a small sampling of programs I have given over the years:


Leclair   Son. in D

Brahms #3


Tartini-Kreisler Var. on a theme by Corelli

Tchaikovsky  Serenade Meloncolique

Kreisler Scoen Rosmarin

Sarasate Playera, Caprice Basque


Beethoven  Son. #1

Tartini Devi's Trill


Veracinii  Allegro

Wieniawski  "Legende"

Paganini  Cantabile in D

Sarasate  Zigeunerweisen

1990 - European Debut, Geneva

Vitali  Chaconne

Franck  Son.


Copland  Son.

Sarasate  Romanza Andaluza, Playera, Caprice Basque get the idea. Of course, there have been many times when I was part of a 'variety act' and was only alotted 15-20 minutes, and I would usually play showpieces.

With this posting, I need to take another break from It's been fun!




February 25, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

Hello everyone, thanks for taking the time to write in and express your opinions!   Sometimes it is hard to know what audiences or other violinists might think with regards to recital programs.  I'm glad there are others out there that echo a similar view I hold.   I am not in anyway suggesting that sonatas be banished from recitals, but I do think as Oliver Steiner said very eloquently, a good recital program should be like a good meal!  I agree with you Raphael completely that if a pianist is hired by a violinist as a collaborator, he/she should go along with repertoire decisions of the violinist.  I have to mention though that I have never encountered a pianist that objects to playing more showpieces and maybe one or two sonatas.  As you said it is less work in certain ways for a pianist to play violin showpieces.   Those are some nice programs by the way!

February 25, 2009 at 07:45 PM ·

You want to compare boring Tetzlaff with a man like Heifetz who was really one of the few capable of giving justice to such a program?

The modern recital format really started with people like Busch and Serkin.

The formats today are usually to cater for the (diminishing white haired conservative) audience.

Same reason why they play some Schubert quartets to destruction in a vain effort to fill the half empty halls.

February 25, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·

Great subject.  Remember, as you indicated,  the Heifetz 72' recital was his last and was promoted as such.  People did anything to obtain a ticket.   Every student he had, attempted to be there.  So I would say that program was not a typical Heifetz program.  He always played several of his little "gems" that he had composed over the many years of his concert career.  I have the 72' recital on CD and listen to it often. 

February 25, 2009 at 09:23 PM ·

Hi Charles,  I don't see a distinct difference really in the programming of Heifetz's last recital compared to his other earlier recitals.  Yes, for about a decade preceding his last recital he was in a semi-retirement; he appeared mainly with Piatigorsky and others friends playing chamber music and with small ensembles he would play some concerti in these performances without conductor.  If you look at Herbert Axelrod's biography on Heifetz, there's a entire section devoted to his recital and concert programs which is quite neat.

February 26, 2009 at 12:46 AM ·

 Charles Bott wrote:

"the Heifetz 72' recital was his last and was promoted as such"

As a matter of historical accuracy, I recollect that the 1972 recital was not promoted as Heifetz's last.  Nobody (possibly not even Heifetz) knew that it would be his last.  Today we might get the impression that the recital was promoted as being his last because the CDs of it bill it as the last recital.  Heifetz eventually said that he will no longer perform in public. However, he said this well after the recital.

February 26, 2009 at 12:53 AM ·

Who's to say there is a rule book about recital programming?  Don't forget that many times big named violinists schedule recitals in order to coincide with and promote their CD releases.  Anne-Sophie Mutter takes this to the Nth degree.  She records the Beethoven Sonatas then travels all over the world performing only Beethoven Sonatas.  She records the Brahms Sonatas, then travels all over the world performing only Brahms Sonatas.  Most recently she released a new recording of the Mendelssohn Concerto.  And now she's traveling the world performing it.

Sticking to a recital formula is playing it safe.  Why not burst out of the box and start to do unusual programming for your own sake?  In Beethoven's time they would program a piano sonata, followed by the first movt of a symphony, followed by an ouverture, followed by the last movt of the same symphony, and so on. 

You can do a recital on all Kreisler pieces, or all movie music, or pick a theme such as "Heroes!" and do an arrangement of Ein Heldhenleiben by Strauss, followed by a violin arrangement of the Superman Theme, and so on.  Your recital = your rules.

February 27, 2009 at 11:09 AM ·

For instance I also would prefer listening to Heifetz then to most "boring" or "not-so-boring" (let's discuss it somewhere else, or not...) violinists, but on the other side I must confess that listening to Mr. Smith struggling through the Strauss Sonata is absolutely not my thing, even if he would be accompanying God himself. Anyway, what I miss most nowadays are sonatas or pieces that give opportunity for both violinist and pianist to show their virtuoso skills: Even if I don't care much for concertos with piano accompaniment (with exception of the Ernst Concerto, which is so awful orchestrated that it doesn't matter or the most common showpieces, I would like to listen much more often to works like (only to name a few) the Sonatas by Saint-Saens, Ravel, Enescu or Bartok or Ravel's Tzigane, Szimanovsky's Myths / Notturno & Tarantella and many others. And if I take a look at my favorite sonata recordings, which would be mostly by Ferras/Barbizet, Francescatti/Casadesus or Szeryng/Rubinstein, it springs to my mind that all these violinists have recorded/played their showpieces with other("lesser"?) pianists. If out of consideration or whichever reason I really don't know...


February 28, 2009 at 04:22 PM ·

I would love to see things mixed up a bit.  Even with what is available on CD.

Every 'big name' records the same material.  As much as I like the Bach Partitas, I'd really like to buy a CD with some more obscure works out there - just for a change and to be exposed to more musical thoughts.  There are some beautiful works out there that just aren't considered by the 'elite' to be worthy.  I'm sure there's some so-called valid reason for it...

And there's snobbery in classical music?  Among violinists?  String players?  Never noticed...*dramatic eye roll*


April 5, 2010 at 12:32 PM ·

As a non-violinist but repertory "expert", allow me to remaind you several sonatas by very well know composers that are seldom played live on stage:

Dvorak - Prokofieff first - Shostakovich - Grieg 1 and 2 - Saint-Saëns first - Nielsen - Strauss - Respighi - Lekeu - Ireland - Debussy - Ravel. And if you want to surprise the public, you can try Josef Wieniawski, Bruno Walter, Joseph guy Ropartz, Sergei Taneyev, Paganini (any of his many short sonatas for violin and guitar) Vieuxtemps....

January 10, 2012 at 10:03 PM · Strauss, Ravel, and Debussy seem to be played quite a lot in recital.

What does everyone think about playing concertos in a recital? I did the Ernst, Vieuxtemps, Glazunoff and Spohr #8 a while back, and also performed the Bruch Scottish Fantasy in recital. I kind of like this 'old' idea. :) Anyone else here do this?

January 10, 2012 at 10:31 PM · Hi Nate - first of all, more power to you for the very challenging repertoire that you have performed!

As far as concertos on recital programs with piano reduction, I personally don't usually like this. In some ways I'm a bit of an old-fashioned trowback in my own recital programing, and always like to include showpieces, etc. But concertos for me don't usually balance the program structurally. Of course this depends on which concerto and what else is on the program. Also the piano reductions are often quite disappointing - again, depending on the piece. Mozart will sound rather good with piano, even though I might miss the oboe here or horn there. Usually the later the piece, and the more heavy and complex the scoring, the worse the reduction sounds on the piano - not surprisingly. This is fine for an audition or master class, but in a full-scale public performance, it is irksome to me. Even hearing one of my favorites, Aaron Rosand, doing the Bruch Scottish Fantasy with piano, it bothers me. The piano sounds so clangy. And as another example, the Sibelius sounds muddy in the piano reduction.

January 11, 2012 at 12:03 AM · Is this an opportunity for aspiring composers? It seems (from my limited experience) that as soon as there is one piano reduction for a concerto thats all the choices there are.

What if a really great young composer decided to try to turn a concerto into a true sonata? All the elements are already there...

January 11, 2012 at 02:55 AM · Hi Raphael, I like your programs a lot - they're very interesting and certainly reflect the influence of your musical and violinistic heritage which is very appealing. I just find it more interesting not to hear just sonatas in a program as I said earlier on this discussion. I agree that concertos in their original form sound better. There are some interesting concerti that I think work well though with piano in recital such as the Glazunoff. There's even a recording of Milstein playing it with piano on Youtube I believe. I've also heard Francescatti playing the Paganini 1st concerto with piano (which was really good). Paganini La Campanella, Goldmark, and the Bruch Concertos 1&2 work quite well with piano also in my opinion. I agree it's hard to replicate the rich orchestral sonorities in the Sibelius with a piano reduction. There are certain pieces I wouldn't want to really hear in concert with piano.

January 11, 2012 at 03:17 AM · Thanks, Nate. After posting, I found my original post from some time back and...well, I'm consistant!

Elise - that's an interesting idea. Without going that far afield, there is sometimes more than one version of a piano reduction. In one of the filmed Heifetz master classes someone played the Chausson PoƩme, and Heifetz told the pianist that there was another edition with a different piano reduction, and that there were just too many notes in the version he was trying to play. Too many notes, Monsieur Chausson!

January 11, 2012 at 12:17 PM · I think that with newer lesser known works it's a good idea for the composer to put plenty of time into making sure the piano version of a concerto sounds convincing if possible.

I know of one case where a composer I know calls, without complex, the same work both concerto and sonata (sonata being piano reduction version).

For my own viola concerto it must have taken a good couple of months to create the piano version of the orchestral score - I took time with a pianist to make sure it was a convincing piano part. I approached a well-known French soloist one time with this concerto (not the soloist that eventually played it); "I've got a viola concerto" reply: "have you got a sonata?"!

January 11, 2012 at 05:30 PM · When I go to a recital I want a balanced meal. A sonata or two, depending on length, is fine, but then a few stand-alone pieces ("showpieces" if you must) as well.

I wonder if many of the "sonata-based" recital programs that you're seeing these days actually include a couple of showpieces, perhaps as encores that are not written into the program?

And Nate I agree with Raphael: you're really kicking a-- with some of that stuff you've been performing. Holy cow man.

January 12, 2012 at 04:15 AM · Actually, I'm now recalling an idea that I had a long time ago: I do see how certain movements from some concertos could fit in well in a balanced recital program. Certainly a group of short pieces could work well if they included the slow mvts. of the Tchaikovsky or Golmark. (Erick Friedman played the Goldmark mvt. twice in a recital: in the middle of the program, using his Joseph Curtain violin as he did with the rest of the program, and as an encore on a borrowed Strad.) And for a virtuosic recital ending I could see the last mvts. of the Mendelssohn, Bruch, or Tchaikovsky - or the scherzo from the Vieuxtemps #4.

Anyway, I just got home from attending a recital of the brilliant young virtuoso, Eric Silberger. It was also a pleasure to see his professor and my former erstwhile teacher, Glenn Dicterow, and we had a pleasant chat. See how you folks like his program, which he played wonderfully:

Vitali Chaconne

Grieg Sonata #2 in G

Sarasate Romanza Andaluza

Intro. and Tarantella

Dvorak Slavonic Dance in e

Waxman Carmen Fantasy

January 12, 2012 at 03:32 PM · Great, challenging selections by Eric,wish I could have been there and have seen his youtube videos. Met Glenn and his violinist father many years ago.

January 12, 2012 at 03:38 PM · People use second movements out of concertos all the time in recitals (like the famous Canzonetta), so why not first or third? I'm aware of a nice student recital that included the second movement of the Bach A minor concerto. Lovely piece (in C major!) on its own.

January 12, 2012 at 07:17 PM · Well, this discussion has been up here a long time. I think there is an historical aspect to this that has been touched on by many of you. 150 years ago, a typical recital may have consisted just of the encore "bon bons," and very little in the way of serious sonata programming.

I believe it was Joseph Joachim who was the first great violinist to change the nature of the recital to the more hefty works in the sonata repertoire.

And indeed, well into the 20th Century, there was a bias against all of those wonderful but supposedly "superficial" short encore pieces. I can recall somewhere reading a critical review of a Mischa Elman recital, and apparently he loved to include these encore pieces. The reviewer wrote, "Then there was the usual Ziegeunergarbage."

But I think it's always nice to have a balance.



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