Top 10 Violin Concertos | Gramophone

An introduction to 10 of the greatest violin concertos with highly recommended recordings

Along with the piano, the violin is the instrument best served with concertos, and what a variety! Here’s a Top 10 Violin Concerto that encompasses all the great works central to every violinist’s repertoire, ranging from Mozart’s poise through red-blooded romantic works like the Tchaikovsky to the modern language of Shostakovich and Bartók.

mozart Violin Concerto No. 3

Isabelle Faust vn Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini

“The world has no shortage of recordings of this music and, much like the Gramophone, it must be recognized that most listeners will have their favorites among the countless classic records that have appeared over the decades. However, for the period instruments, period sensibility and state-of-the-art engineering, you may find it hard to improve on this challenging and eminently enjoyable cycle…’ Read review

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Beethoven Violin Concerto

Jascha Heifetz vn NBC Symphony Orchestra / Arturo Toscanini

“The performance itself is one of the most remarkable the gramophone has ever given us. The visionary, high tessitura writing of the violin is carried out by Heifetz with a technical certainty that does not, in the final analysis, stand out from his sense of the work as one of Beethoven’s most sublime explorations of this world (according to the (Schiller’s expression) ‘above the stars where He must dwell’. Those who question the “depth” of Heifetz’s reading completely miss this point. To adapt Oscar Wilde, they are the ones in the gutter, Heifetz looking at the stars…’ Read the review

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Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Ray Chen vn Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding

‘Chen introduced a number of the genre of portaments which the work’s dedicatee, Ferdinand David, is said to have used to enhance the expressive effect. It does so discreetly and tastefully and, I think, makes a strong case for the need to connect the notes in this way, if the touching quality of the melody is to be fully brought out. Daniel Harding and his Swedish orchestra provide magnificent backing and the balance, while sounding quite natural in its perspective, allows all the important solo lines to come through. A combination of fine playing and well-defined registration allows the varied timbres of the woodwinds, horns and trumpets to have a particularly lively impact. It is recalled with more force than usual that the two concertos are the work of masters of orchestration; Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky delight in finding colorful and evocative settings for the soloist and a variety of ways to animate the musical dialogue. The overall sound is rich and well-balanced, and there’s an infectious air of enthusiasm and commitment…’ Read Review

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Brahms Violin Concerto

Vadim Gluzman vn Lucerne Symphony Orchestra / James Gaffigan

‘An excellent record with top performance and great sound. In the digital/SACD realm I don’t see a Brahms Violin Concerto that I prefer, although Repin with Chailly (DG in standard stereo, generously coupled to the Double Concerto) is easily as good…’ Read Review

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Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Lisa Batiashvili vn Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim

“The Tchaikovsky exudes a melancholy warmth fusing classical and romantic sensibilities. It is a crucial balance in the interpretation of this music. The first statement of the first subject is tender and sober, the second a little more persuasive, but never the balance and purity of Tchaikovsky’s innate classicism are compromised. There’s an undeniable taste for the expressive opportunities the piece offers at every turn, but for all the color and invention of Batiashvili’s playing, he’s never, ever self-centered.

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Weevil Violin Concerto No. 1

Kyung-Wha Chung vn Concertgebouw Orchestra / Klaus Tennstedt

“Chung is lighter and more changeable than Perlman, often more flexible in her approach to Beethoven, as Tennstedt is too, but magnetically retaining an overall mastery. Perlman can convey masterful certainty, but the element of vulnerability in Chung’s playing adds to the emotional weight, especially in the slow movement, which, in its wistful tenderness, is among the most beautiful on the record….’ Read the critical

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Sibelius Violin Concerto

Leonidas Kavakos vn Lahti Symphony Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä

“This disc offers invaluable insight into the workings of the Sibelius mind, and I must say that even on its own the 1904 version has plenty of incidental beauties to delight us with. Kavakos and the Lahti Orchestra play beautifully throughout, and the familiar concerto that struggled to emerge from the 1903–04 version emerges just as surely in their hands. The BIS team has put us in deep debt by making both versions available for study side by side…’ Read Review

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Berg Violin Concerto

Isabelle Faust vn Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

‘Few of the Berg’s recordings have achieved this level of detailed soloist and orchestral engagement. The one that does is Josef Suk’s, made in 1968 with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karel Ančerl, and they manage to stay closer to Berg’s metronome marks – some passages in the Faust recording are rather slow, although I don’t see it spoiling the performance in any way. And this new account benefits from a more melodious recorded sound, with a much higher definition….’ Read the review

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bartok Violin Concerto No. 2

Barnabas Kelemen vn Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra / Zoltán Kocsis

‘If you haven’t yet responded to my enthusiasm for Arabella Steinbacher’s Pentatone recording of Bartók’s Second Concerto with Suisse Romande conducted by Marek Janowski (see review), hold the fire. Not that I’m retracting, but this recent hot rival offers a point of view you might prefer. It also provides, as one of the fillers, an alternate version of the concerto finale, orchestrally more showy than the one we know but, for the final pages, without the soloist (the familiar revision was the idea by Zoltán Székely). ..’ Read the review

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Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1

Maxim Vengerov vn London Symphony Orchestra / Mstislav Rostropovich

“He can refine his tone down to the slightest whisper; it’s also not afraid to make a hot and ugly sound. While its occasionally sharp quality of articulation is particularly appropriate for faster movements, the brooding, silver-grey Nocturne stands out superbly too. Rostropovitch asks the lower strings to dig into the passacaglia theme of the third movement with his usual enthusiasm. There are some expressive bulges in the accompanying details. Indeed, the orchestral playing is almost irreproachable….’ Read the review

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