Saint-Lubin: Virtuoso Works For Violin Vol 1 / Khitruk, Kopelman

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SAINT-LUBIN Grand duo concertant. 1 Fantaisie sur un thème de Lucia di Lammermoor. Thème original et Etude de S. Thalberg. Adagio religioso. 1 Potpourri on Themes from Auber’s “La fiancée.” 1 Salonstücke: Nocturne and Rondino; 1 Nocturne and Polonaise 1 Anastasia Khitruk (vn); Elizaveta Kopelman (pn) 1 NAXOS 8.572019 (75:16)

Ludwig Spohr’s student, Léon de Saint-Lubin (1805–50), may not be a household name to general listeners, but violinists should recognize him as the author of six fairly difficult studies, op. 42, and of the brilliant Fantaisie on the sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia , a virtuoso showpiece that Ruggiero Ricci recorded (issued on the CD label 111 as URS-91010). The rest of the program, consisting of virtually unknown pieces like the genial, extended Grand duo concertant (nearly 28 minutes in length), nevertheless holds its own. Klaus Martin Kopitz’s notes point out the occasionally Schubertian quality of this work, most apparent perhaps in the first and third movements, though in the agitated passages and conclusion of the more flamboyant finale as well, while the Scherzo sounds more Beethovenian (although Schubert may be seen to reappear in the central section). Anastasia Khitruk and Elizaveta Kopelman both play this work with great authority and with technical and tonal command.

The Fantaisie , written for solo violin, mines the instrument’s technical resources in as comprehensive a way as do works by Wieniawski ( Variations on the Austrian National Anthem ) or Ernst ( Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer” )—if not exploring the extreme ranges and combinations of techniques that these test, impressive enough in their own way. Khitruk plays the work with a more sumptuous tone than Ricci did, making more of its melodiousness than of its hair-raising difficulties, which Ricci emphasized in his performance. If Nathan Milstein developed his ability to play unviolinistic passages by reading Chopin on the violin, Saint-Lubin may have achieved similar results by working through piano studies, and he wrote out his daunting transcription of this one by Sigismund Thalberg. It shares the same general style as the Fantaisie : a rather slow-moving foundation encrusted with layers of technically stunning, fast-moving figuration of various kinds. Khitruk displays a more lyrical side not only of Saint-Lubin’s muse but of her own as well in the Adagio religioso , a piece that showcases the power of her tone on the G string and her affinity for its more Romantic sensibilities. The piano joins the violin in closer partnership in the Potpourri on Themes from Auber’s “La fiancée,” an elegant confection, but not nearly so sweet as the Nocturne and Rondino and the Nocturne and Polonaise. In these, Khitruk affects a manner generally more elegant than probing, dazzling, or daunting, though the Rondino ends dashingly, the second Nocturne contains its moments of impassioned declamation, and the Polonaise opens with considerable verve.

Those who wish to hear violinistic fireworks may be disappointed in the program: except for the two solo pieces, Saint-Lubin emerges in it more as a composer seeking general recognition in the serious and salon repertoire than as a composer seeking to stun audiences with virtuoso barnburners. But the Fantaisie and Thalberg paraphrase should satisfy anyone; and everything has been accorded first-rate, revealing recorded sound. Recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Virtuosity with elegance throughout

Naxos continues its exploration of the byways of the violinistically arcane with this disc devoted to Saint-Lubin. Rather like Rode, his is a name more honoured in the breach than in concert performance these days. Saint-Lubin was born in Turin in 1805 to a French family that had fled the Revolution (he was actually christened Napoléon-Antoine-Eugène). At the age of about four the family moved to Hamburg and subsequently he studied with Spohr, and then gravitated to Vienna. Here he met Beethoven, who wrote a small cadenza for him to play in 1822. Having then heard Paganini he withdrew to an estate in Hungary, that of an aristocratic patron, to work on his technique, but by 1830 he was back in the public eye as concertmaster of the Royal Municipal Theatre in Berlin, where he died at an early age in 1850.

The major work in this first volume is the Grand Duo Concertant, published in 1847. It's a curious hybrid, with the piano writing often sounding decidedly Beethovenian whilst the violin spins a lyric line that sounds part derived from Schubert. It's very well written for both instruments and extremely well paced. There's grace and also a touch of drollery, maybe even frivolity in the opening movement, whilst the second has a strong Beethovenian cast to it, and is full of verve. There's a warm slow movement, nothing too fulsome to over balance the schema, which sports a perky and extrovert B section. A bright, keen Allegretto finishes the work in style.

The other works fall into well established genres of writing - the operatic variations, the salon charmers, and the mildly lachrymose sweetmeat. The Fantaisie sur un thème de Lucia di Lammermoor obviously falls into the first category, a display piece of considerable virtuosity, calling for a battery of resources and majoring on left hand pizzicato and tremolandi to fan the flames; clearly a post-Paganinian confection, which Anastasia Khitruk digs into with chewy vibrato and great panache. The Potpourri on themes from Auber's La Fiancée is another paraphrase, just as demanding, but also exuding veritable whiffs of stage paint. The Thème Original et Etude de S. Thalberg, Op. 45a is cleverly wrought - an arrangement for violin of a piano etude it transfers to the new medium extremely convincingly, even exuding as it does considerable bowing difficulties. It was dedicated jointly to Bazzini and Sivori so Saint-Lubin was reaching out to the best. As one would expect the Adagio Religioso is warmly textured but fortunately not too religiose. And the salon morceaux that end the disc are full of lightweight charm and rather generic dance patterns.

With fine recorded sound and notes this first volume gets off to a cracking start. Khitruk and Elizaveta Kopelman are first class ambassadors for this kind of music and marry virtuosity with elegance throughout.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572019

  • UPC: 747313201976

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Napoléon Saint-Lubin

  • Performer: Anastasia Khitruk, Elizaveta Kopelman