Kurt Weill composed his violin concerto in 1924 when he was just 24, shortly before he transitioned away from the strictly classical. It shows the influence of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. There is also a noticeable jazz influence. It has been described as "wonderfully sleazy".
The violin concerto by Latvian-born Peteris Vasks (born 1946) could not be further removed from Weill's work. This work has been described as "fragile, beautiful, otherworldly", and (in Vasks' own words) "nostalgia with a touch of tragedy."
So what do these two excellent concertos have in common? For starters, I would say that they both have Anthony Marwood's inspired, devoted and flawless interpretation that infuses both with a sense of deep mystery, suggested in part by the darkly enigmatic art of Joseph Uhl which graces the cover. In addition, both works put forth a considered stance toward the existential darkness which seems to engulf modern life.
The Weill concerto seems to be saying, cope with the meaningless, embrace it, and try to find some dark humor in it. By contrast, the Vasks concerto urges a resolute inner strength that will eventually overwhelm the darkness so that the distant light, "the glittering stars millions of light years away" (Vasks) light our path and guide us forward in our quest for ultimate meaning.
These two works could not be more unalike in temperament, nor their styles more different. The Vasks concerto is elegiac, emotional, mournful, spiritual, tonal, and seering, whereas the Weill concerto is ironic, relatively atonal, cerebral, matter-of-fact, witty, urbane, and perfunctory.
Both are masterworks which produce different responses in the listener. Vasks' work grabs you by the throat, mesmerizes you, until the last ounce of resistance is wrung out of you. You grab hold and ride its emotional wave. Weill's work is dry, self-deprecating, sophisticated, and inventive. It is the product of a young man, filled with confidence, even a little cocky perhaps.
The Vasks concerto resides in a state of acute emotional crisis. It is torn between Yes and No. The great battle for Yes is fought in the fourth movement, but it is a short-lived battle. Immediately the fifth movement brings, if not resolution, then faith, earnestness, sincerety. The elegaic tone resumes, mournful, probing, touched with tragedy, reminiscence, wistfulness.
There is a sense in which the Weill concerto is a preface to the Vasks, or rather; the Weill concerto is the question - to which the Vasks concerto is the answer. Vasks' concerto gives the meditations of a composer far more mature than the twenty-four year old Weill. But Weill has asked the right question. And that is perhaps just as important.