Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, is his last large orchestral work. It forms an important part of the violin repertoire and is one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos in history. A typical performance lasts just under half an hour.
Mendelssohn originally proposed the idea of the violin concerto to Ferdinand David, a close friend and then concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Although conceived in 1838, the work took another six years to complete and was not premiered until 1845. During this time, Mendelssohn maintained a regular correspondence with David, who gave him many suggestions. The work itself was one of the foremost violin concertos of the Romantic era and was influential on many other composers.
Although the concerto consists of three movements in a standard fast–slow–fast structure and each movement follows a traditional form, the concerto was innovative and included many novel features for its time. Distinctive aspects include the almost immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work (rather than following an orchestral preview of the first movement’s major themes, as was typical in Classical-era concertos) and the through-composed form of the concerto as a whole, in which the three movements are melodically and harmonically connected and played attacca (each movement immediately following the previous one).
The concerto was well received and soon became regarded as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time. The concerto remains popular to this day and has developed a reputation as an essential concerto for all aspiring concert violinists to master, and usually one of the first Romantic era concertos they learn. Many professional violinists have recorded the concerto and the work is regularly performed in concerts and classical music competitions.
Mendelssohn also wrote a virtuoso Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D minor between 1821 and 1823, when he was 12 to 14 years old, at the same time that he produced his twelve string symphonies. This work was “rediscovered” and first recorded in 1951 by Yehudi Menuhin.
Among a vast discography, the following recordings have received notable awards and outstanding reviews:
- 1964: Josef Suk (violin), Czech Philharmonic, Karel Ančerl (conductor), Supraphon – “Highly Recommended” by the Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
- 1981: Kyung-Wha Chung (violin), Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit (conductor), Decca – “4 star” by the Penguin Guide
- 1998: Robert McDuffie (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Joseph Swensen (conductor), Telarc – “Rosette” by the Penguin Guide
- 2007: Daniel Hope (violin), Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Thomas Hengelbrock (conductor), Deutsche Grammophon – “10/10” by Classicstoday.com; “Highly recommended recording” by Gramophone magazine, April 2014
- 2010: James Ehnes (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor), Onyx – “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone magazine, February 2011; “Recommended Recording” by ClassicFM; No. 1 Mendelssohn Top Recording, Gramophone, February 2016
- 2011: Ray Chen (violin), Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding (conductor), Sony Classical – “Disc of the Month” by Gramophone magazine, June 2012
- 2012: Philippe Quint (violin), Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería, Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor), – “Editor’s choice” by Gramophone magazine, February 2012.