Kavakos' recording of Sibelius' original version of the violin concerto

March 30, 2006 at 07:40 PM · Hi all, I just listened to Leonidas Kavakos' Sibeilus concerto, which is the original 1903/04 version of the concerto (before the 1905 revision). It was extremely interesting to hear the differences (he recorded the revised version as well). I think it's the only recording that features the orignal, so I doubt the music is published, though I'd love to see it. The violin was playing throughout the long orchestral tuttis in the first movement, and there is an additional cadenza towards the end of the first movement. The last movement had some interesting cutting and pasting: Sibeilus took out an entire chunk of very melodic and light dance music (which takes place during the first long tutti). On the whole, the concerto seemed to be much more light, dreamy, and happy. I deffinitely think the revised version is better and more consistent, but there are some really great things that we miss with the revision. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've listened to it. Kavakos' playing is wonderful, very smooth, refined and elegant. He really does Sibelius' markings, which is rare.

Replies (27)

March 30, 2006 at 05:35 AM · btw, here is a link to the CD I'm referring to, incase you'd like to get a copy: http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=19298&name_role1=2&bcorder=2&name_id=11179&name_role=1

March 30, 2006 at 08:16 PM · Interesting. I didn't even know there was an original version until a couple of days ago when I read the liner notes to my new recording, and just assumed it was unavailable. Maybe I'll check out this CD, thanks.

March 30, 2006 at 08:21 PM · kavakos is a great virtuoso and its great to hear the original. my only complaint is quality of sound, not a very clear recording

March 30, 2006 at 08:39 PM · This is an excellent performance by one of the top violinists in the world! Like Scott said, the recording quality isn't so good, but the performance itself is outstanding. The original version is a bit strange. I'm glad Sibelius reworked the piece to it's final version. The only thing I don't like is that he took out the "Bach" Cadenza at the end of the 1st movement.

March 30, 2006 at 09:24 PM · i raelly dont like the original version. It is too spontaneous and doesnt make harmonic sense at times. I'm glad he changed it to the beauty it is now. Kavakos is a great violinist, though i wish they mic'd his violin...

March 30, 2006 at 10:12 PM · No kidding, D. There are spots where you have you struggle to hear the solo violin

March 30, 2006 at 10:49 PM · I love this recording, Leonidas plays some of the best Sibelius I've ever heard. The original version is a bit strange, but in general I like it.

April 2, 2006 at 12:21 PM · The original is really very beautiful, and I do like it. But I absolutely love the standard version. Remember, Sibelius was a great composer, and there is a reason he changed the original version. He didn't change it to make it worse.

April 2, 2006 at 04:43 PM · well put Sander.

Kavakos plays both versions brilliantly.

He is a consummate artist.

I also agree that Sibelius did the right thing by making changes to the original version.

It is much too symphonic and too thick in texture. Some sections of the original version (which are no longer in the piece), made it sound like a symphony with solo violin occasionally.

April 2, 2006 at 07:27 PM · Lots of violin concertos sound like a symphony with a solo violin. That is not necessarily bad. The real problem with the original version is that it's just too damn long.

I have to say regarding miking, it's jolly good that we've largely abandoned the idea of stuffing mikes into the violin. It does noone any good.


April 2, 2006 at 09:07 PM · There is so much wonderful material in the original...but it feels to me too so full of ideas that it falls apart, the new version is much more to the point.

June 8, 2006 at 05:13 PM · Ilya you said

it's jolly good that we've largely abandoned the idea of stuffing mikes into the violin. It does noone any good.

There is a wonderful recording of Oistrakh playing the Glazunov which sounds as though he swallowed the microphone.


June 8, 2006 at 07:13 PM · I think the original had some more awkward parts that made no sense from a violinistic point of view.

Mr. Oistrakh recently talked about this at a masterclass I attended 2 weeks ago.

August 13, 2006 at 10:01 AM · Are you kidding? The original version is much much better than the revised one. And that cadenza!!!!

FANTASTIC!! KAvakos plays great, though!

August 14, 2006 at 09:22 PM · no way. the revised version is MUCH better musically. more refined, seamless, themes developed to absolute perfection. it's interesting to hear the original version to observe the process of developing a masterful composition.

February 24, 2007 at 06:36 PM · No!Sibelius changed it because it was to damn difficult!And the first vioolinist that played it screwd up!So he had to change it for technical reasons!Im sure he also liked the original version better...

February 24, 2007 at 10:13 PM · Who knows what masterpieces have been lost forever because Brahms destroyed pieces that were completed but that he felt were not up to his best work. Maybe what we have with the Sibelius is not duelling violin concertos to see which one is best, but rather two different and wonderful works of art.


February 24, 2007 at 10:47 PM · The original Sibelius concerto is proof positive that educated, objective self-criticism and self-editing can create works of genius out of works that are merely interesting. By cutting the chaff - ruthlessly, one might add - Sibelius created the work we all know: a pithy, concise, tremendous, eventful, not-one-note-wasted masterpiece. By contrast, I feel that the original version sprawled and, in spite of its many interesting ideas, failed to develop those ideas in an instantly accessible, instantly engaging way. In listening to the original work, in fact, I'm put in mind of seeing some Da Vinci design for a helicopter, or something of that sort. You see trends that will develop, ideas that will flower, but you know that the thing on the page, AS IT STANDS, will never fly.

And, in so doing, Sibelius levelled the most devastating attack on an all-too-American tendency. Namely, that eternal tendency in the US to think that emotional sincerity, taken in sufficient quantities, can overcome a total absence of training and/or talent. "Follow your dreams" we always say. "If you truly feel it, and say it, however inadequately or incomprehensibly or even stupidly, it has value just because it came to your mind and out of your mouth." No less a person, no less a violinist, no less a composer than Jean Sibelius himself saw fit to ruthlessly prune his own excess. And the results speak for themselves.

It's not two concerti. It's not even two concerti vying for our attention and/or approval. It's a veritable object lesson in the value of humility, education and self-critique. THAT's why I love the original Sibelius.

February 25, 2007 at 12:39 AM · To quote the paragraph above: "If you truly feel it, and say it, however inadequately or incomprehensibly or even stupidly, it has value just because it came to your mind and out of your mouth."

That's what parents feel. And every child needs a dose of that or they cannot see their intrinsic value, and the self-discipline they develop, no matter how great, will always be tinged -- and their internal life limited -- by resentment.

February 25, 2007 at 12:39 AM · The last movement is now absurd. I can't stand it.

February 25, 2007 at 07:15 AM · Allan, but don't you think that such unchecked dotage is...well, not the BEST parenting? I see what you're saying: that parents want to encourage children to speak, to feel, to express without imbuing in them a fear that if they're no Cicero they should never open their mouth. But shouldn't a parent also try to get their kid a little closer to Cicero than to Slim Shady? So if a kid does let forth something incomprehensible, shouldn't the parent act as the sort of editor - constructive, encouraging but thorough - that Sibelius could be to himself, as an adult? Shouldn't we be encouraging self-editing, self-examination and self-criticism instead of the wholesale, narcissistic relativism that we currently breed?

February 25, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Emil--

But-----if a child only gets the criticism and the driving self examination before you ever bother to instill a solid sense of self-worth; all you succeed in making is a broken, self-doubting human being with significantly deficient self esteem.

February 25, 2007 at 03:01 PM · "instill a solid sense of self-worth": every child comes with enough self-worth, no need to boost it. Just help the child understand over time what it has to DO and to KNOW to keep right to a proper degree of self-worth. The by far biggest threat to our kind of civilization I know are people whose self-esteem exceeds their capabilities by far.

And the easiest way to "develop" the natural inclination to laziness of all of us into a substantial neurosis is keep telling children (and adults) they are all equally valuable beings independent on their output. We wouldn't even have managed to leave stone age with all unconditionally equally valuable human beings.

Thanks, Emil, for your really valuable, even progressive contribution here.


February 25, 2007 at 04:15 PM · In my opinion, this is NOT an issue of encouraging an uncritical attitude towards a work of art as merely an emotional expression, but a willingness to look at a work of art in its own terms and in the context of the artist's vision at the time he or she created it.

A writer (I forget who) once said that no work is every truly "finished", that instead he just decides at some point to stop writing/editing. If Sibelius had decided NOT to refine and re-think the first version of the Violin Concerto, and all we had would be that original version, there is no doubt that it would enjoy the a place of honor as a great work of art.

I submit that it is indeed a separate work of art (although I personally happen to agree that there is not a wasted note in the 2nd, the famous one). If you listen to the first one as a completed work (which it was when he finished it) and not as a "work in progress," and listen to it in it's own terms, it is great.

The Elgar Violin Concerto, which I love dearly, is (to me) overblown and filled with passages and notes that don't seem "necessary." I'm sure that if Elgar had decided to re-think his Violin Concerto and made it the concise diamond that is the Sibelius Concerto, we'd be having the same discussion about the Elgar Concerto we all know and love.

If you want to level the criticism that we are encouraging in our children some kind of free expression without any critical thinking to go along with it, I agree completely. In fact, that view of art (that it is merely uncritical self-expression) has been around since the 60's.

"Self-worth" is a matter of appreciating and accepting who one is as a person. It does not mean being uncritical or considering everything we do as being of equal quality just because it is deeply felt.

I'm an amateur violinist who loves the instrument and the music and who has achieved a certain level of skill (playing in tune, cleanly, with feeling). I appreciate being able to do that, and it certainly adds to my own feelings of "self-worth." But at the same time, I am under no illusions that I can play nearly as well as any professional or most amateurs. If I could write a violin concerto 1/100th as good as the Sibelius 1st version, my self-esteem would go through the roof, even with the recognition that mine may be a lousy piece of music by comparison.

Anyway, this has been a very stimulating discussion from all points of view, and it has caused me to become familiar with the Sibelius's first version, which up to now I had viewed as maybe an interesting but actually a "flawed" piece of music. And it has caused me, too, to fall in love with the second version all over again.

Cordially, Sandy

February 24, 2009 at 07:33 PM ·

Does anybody know where can I find sheet music of original version of that concert?

Thanks in advance for answers!

February 24, 2009 at 09:35 PM ·

It may well be that Sibelius changed the original version when he realized that there are awfully many quotes of the Goldmark concerto,  

February 25, 2009 at 11:10 AM ·

The composer's wife had a liking for the original version: "I prefer the first version of the violin concerto. Papa changed it when the critics tore it to pieces (...) Many virtuoso parts were left out. Now the concerto is easier," Aino Sibelius later recollected. Her view gained some support later, when the original version became world famous through a recording made by Leonidas Kavakos with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 1991.

Nevertheless, the final version of the concerto - the one we are familiar with today - was composed with more controlled taste and is the more balanced masterpiece. In this version even the most demanding virtuoso parts serve the musical whole.

The following link may prove to be of help:



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