Using the baroque concerto as a model, this work is designed to feature a baritone voice, of which bassoon, baritone saxophone, and even bass clarinet would work effectively as soloists. The key of B minor was chosen for its ease of playing and dark yet resonant qualities in the string ensemble. The first movement is a deviation from the traditional form of theme-and-variations, in which the theme is expressed with ever-accelerating note values while maintaining the same steady tempo. First, a somber statement in quarter-note octaves arcs across the landscape of strings, from basses and cellos to the first violins and back, then picked up and transformed by the cello solo with an edge of longing. The icy second statement of the theme in eighth notes allows the cello to push against the ensemble a little in the contrast of the solo string tone, while the warm triplets of the third statement give the ensemble a chance to work out. The brief cadenza that follows pushes the theme from quarter notes to eighths to triplets, finally settling on the 16th notes that drive the theme to a bustling conclusion.
The second movement relies on simplicity in its use of the ABA aria form. The cello’s gentle but indulgent melody floats over a cushion of pulsing chords. The strings introduce a countermelody in triplets that leads up to a solemn chordal statement, and then becomes a factor in the development of the original melody.
The concluding rondo blends both the modern and baroque concepts of the “hook,” a catchy phrase that sticks in the mind because of some unusual note. In this case, the snag is a diminished 5th, more common to the blues than to the baroque concerto. Here it is explored using all of the opportunities that the freedom of the rondo form allows, boldly stated at the beginning, punctuating episodes of development, sneaking in at times where it is least expected, then bringing the movement to a close with a feeling of unsettled finality.