Concertos

Although Dvorák had no great propensity for the concert form, he nonetheless created three masterworks of the genre.

The first of them, chronologically – Piano Concerto in G minor op. 33 (1876, revised 1883) – is overshadowed by the other two instrumental concertos for violin and violoncello. The solo piano part was long considered lacking in virtuosity and effect while making inadequately high technical demands. The Czech pianist and teacher Vilém Kurz (1872–1945) thus decided to modify the work in 1919 to better fit the conventional image of piano texture and to be more “readily” playable. Kurz’s variant soon caught on in concert programmes and was even included as an alternative version in the complete edition, sidelining the authentic form of the concerto for many decades. The first pianist to revive interest in Dvorák’s original version was Sviatoslav Richter. He was then joined by an ever-growing number of eminent pianists, foremost of whom is András Schiff.

The new Urtext edition by Robbert van Steijn, which is based on the autograph and on the first print issued by the Wroclaw publisher Hainauer (1883), returns to the authentic version without reservation.

The Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek also feels a close connection to the work: “I often play Dvorák’s excellent piano concerto, and I recently recorded it with Jakub Hruša and the Bamberger Symphoniker. I am convinced that the previous ‘improvements’ of the piano part to produce a more effective instrumental virtuosity, which was not in Dvorák’s nature, are unnecessary. I consider it a matter of course nowadays to perform any work in its authentic form. So I am glad that Dvorák’s concerto has finally been published in a trustworthy critical edition and that I had the chance to contribute to the edition with a few personal remarks of my own regarding the interpretation of the solo part.”

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Like most of the key solo concertos of the nineteenth century, Dvorák’s two works for violin and violoncello were created in close collaboration between composer and performer. The final form of the violin concerto was influenced by Joseph Joachim, while Hanuš Wihan contributed to the definitive version of the cello concerto. Although the compositions are dedicated to these musicians, neither of them performed their world premieres, for various reasons.

Violin Concerto in A minor op. 53 is considered to be one of the crowning works of Dvorák’s “Slavonic period”. It was composed alongside the first series of Slavonic Dances, Czech Suite, Slavonic Rhapsodies, or Symphony no. 6 in D major. The genesis of the concerto was rather protracted and complex for Dvorák, who worked on it intermittently for almost four years (1879–1882) due to Joachim’s considerable interventions in the process. The concerto was then published in Berlin by Fritz Simrock in 1883.

The new Urtext edition was prepared by Iacopo Cividini, who also reconstructed some of the original variants that had been left out of either the first print or the subsequent modern ones. The edition includes the original piano reduction, which was presumably created by Antonín Dvorák himself.

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Cello Concerto in B minor op. 104 is without a doubt the most famous cello concertos of all time. And yet it came about quite unexpectedly, without any specific commission, in the last school year of Dvorák’s teaching tenure in New York, in 1894–1895. The composer’s decision to compose a concerto for violoncello was truly surprising, as he himself noted in a letter to his friend Alois Göbl: “I’ve just finished the first movement of a concerto for the cello!! Don’t be surprised; I was surprised myself, and I still wonder why I chose to embark upon something like this.” It is also said that Dvorák did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument, based on his documented claim that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”, and he regarded his youthful Concerto for Violoncello in A major with piano accompaniment from 1865 as worthless.

The concerto is regarded as one of Dvorák’s most intimate works. It is profoundly contemplative yet also monumental in its expression and grandiose in proportions. For its ideational gravity and formal conception, which places the orchestra as an equal partner to the solo instrument, it is sometimes dubbed the composer’s “tenth” symphony.

Although Dvorák completed the concerto in early February 1895 while still in New York, the work was not finalised until the end of the year. First, Dvorák himself completely reworked the finale upon returning to Bohemia. This was followed by protracted discussions and disagreements with the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Some of the previously unknown aspects of the composer’s collaboration with Wihan are uncovered by our new groundbreaking critical edition of the concerto by Jonathan Del Mar, which presents Dvorák’s definitive version of the solo part for the first time since Simrock’s initial edition in 1896.

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