Ernst: Complete Music Vol 3 / Sherban Lupu, Ian Hobson

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ERNST Introduction and Fantasy on Le Quattour Favori by F. Halévy , Op. 6. Élégie , Op. 10. Introduction, Variations, and Finale on a Waltz by Charles Shunke and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, Op. 26. Hungarian Airs, Op. 22. HELLER and ERNST Pensées fugitives , 7-12. OSBORNE and ERNST Souvenirs of La Juive Sherban Lupu (vn); Ian Hobson (pn) TOCCATA 0163 (80:55)

Toccata’s series, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst: Complete Music , continues with its third volume, comprising two sets of variations, the once famous but now at least familiar Élégie , the second half of Pensées fugitives (the first half having appeared in the series’s first volume), an opera fantasy, and the formidable Airs hongrois variés (here with a cadenza by Arthur Hartmann), all played, once again, by violinist Sherban Lupu and pianist Ian Hobson. The first work in the collection bears the title Introduction et Variations Brillantes en form de Fantaisie pour le violon sur le Quatuor favori de Ludovic de F. Halévy and consists of a set of four variations on a theme from Halévy’s opera Ludovic (according to the notes, Halévy completed the work begun by Ferdinand Hérold). As in the earlier volumes, Lupu produces a slightly acidulous tone, but he wields it suggestively, leaping with great effect into the higher registers in the introduction and playing with the pathos and drama the music, as well as the composer’s reputation, demands. As in the other volumes, Toccata has provided separate tracks for each section—the introduction, theme, variations, and concluding passages—so that reader-listeners can follow the highly detailed—and highly informative—booklet notes by Ernst’s biographer, Mark Rowe. In the variations, Lupu communicates the brilliance and aplomb (listen to his strutting staccato double-stops sprinkled with pizzicatos or the transcendentally difficult finale) that must have made such a strong impression on Ernst’s listeners (he seemed to have known—and been admired by—virtually everybody, including Liszt, with whom he played Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, Joachim, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, Paganini, Brahms, Wieniawski, and Charles Hallé, while the perceptive 19th-century violin historian, the Rev. H. R. Haweis, identified him as the greatest of all the violinists he’d heard).

The notes relate the hyper-romantic story of the Élégie sur la mort d’un objet chéri , which Ernst composed upon learning of the death of a young woman with whom he had fallen in love years earlier. Lupu creates the violinistic equivalent of a sob—many times over—in his heartfelt performance of this piece, which includes Louis Spohr’s characteristically chromatic introduction—the practice of including, which Rowe traces to Joachim and August Wilhelmj. Compare this deeply moving reading to the blander but still affecting one by Ingolf Turban (without Spohr’s introduction, on Claves CD 50-9613, Fanfare 20:6), the rich-toned but again less electifying one by Ilya Grubert (with Spohr’s introduction but also with some heavy breathing that doesn’t really help make Ernst’s mournful point—Hyperion 67619, Fanfare 31: 6), and Grubert’s similar reading with orchestra (without Spohr’s introduction but with the weight of the orchestra to give it ballast, which Steven E. Ritter reviewed in Fanfare 30:5 and I reviewed in Fanfare 31:1—Naxos 8.557565), and it becomes clear how much more pathos Lupu wrings from the piece. The notes give the next work the title, Introduction, Variations et Final, Dialogués, & Concertans sur une Valse favorite pour Piano et Violin par Charles Schunke et H. W. Ernst , and the work, with its showy pianism, recalls the Thème Allemande Varié , also by the two in collaboration, which appears in the series’ first volume. In this case, they’ve embellished in four variations a waltz by Johann Strauss, Sr., creating from it a highly entertaining, rhythmically vibrant pastiche that relies for its effect more heavily on pianistic than on violinistic brilliance. Hobson meets the challenge, as does Lupu—handily in both cases (and the violin part’s not at all easy, even if it’s overshadowed by the piano).

The Pensées fugitives include a Rêverie, Un Caprice, Inquiétude, Prière pendant l’orage, Intermezzo , and a Thème original de H. W. Ernst , with a variation and finale. (The identification of Ernst must have been necessary because Ernst published these pieces with pianist Stephen Heller—and though Ernst wasn’t their sole composer, he did give performances of them.) In the Rêverie, Lupu plays some portamentos that will strike many listeners as old-fashioned, but will seem to others the most effective way in which to heighten the expressivity—which they do. The Caprice doesn’t suggest the difficulty of Paganini’s works by the same name, but communicates the joviality and indeterminacy at the title’s root (a leaping goat?). The restless Inquiétude gives way to the moving Prière, to which, according to the notes, a storm serves as the background. Lupu and Hobson capture the prayer’s urgency as effectively as they do the storm’s tumultuousness. The Intermezzo, more playful, nevertheless reflects darker Affekten in its accompaniment, at least in Hobson’s performance. The theme and variations doesn’t empty Ernst’s bag of tricks as do the other works, but the variations seem strongly characterized, in the drawing-room manner, and the duo digs the marrow out of each of these moods and posturings. The booklet notes give the epigraphs printed with these pieces and descriptions of each.

Lupu and Hobson make Souvenirs de l’Opéra La Juive de F. Halevy [sic] pour Piano et Violon Concertants Composés par Osborne et Ernst , another collaboration—this time with George Osborne, according to the notes, an Irish pianist—sound quintessentially operatic, in each of its two sections. The intensity of these movements, and their performances, gives way to the breathtaking swagger of the Hungarian Airs , which Rowe identifies as one of Wieniawski’s favorite warhorses and even cites as an influence (in its rising 10th) on Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Ruggiero Ricci recorded this piece twice, mounting its technical challenges with more breathtaking panache (if greater recklessness) than does Lupu, although Ricci doesn’t capture to a significantly greater degree its ethnic coloring or the affecting lyricism of its second theme, in which, once again, Lupu seems almost to sob. And Hartmann’s brilliant and commanding cadenza fits the work hand-in-glove.

For those who haven’t yet discovered the riches of Toccata’s series, this third volume might be as good a place as any to begin—but surely not to end. There’s a diamond in every sock drawer—almost, in fact, in every sock. The volumes of this series ought to pass directly through the Want List into the Hall of Fame, but it may be good for readers to learn of them more expeditiously among the pages of ordinary reviews. But the usual precautions ought to apply: Not recommended for those with heart problems, and so forth. They’re that exciting.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 29, 2013

  • Catalog Number: TOCC0163

  • UPC: 5060113441638

  • Label: Toccata Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst

  • Performer: Ian Hobson, Sherban Lupu