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Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1812-1865)
Complete Works - Volume Six
Études pour le Violon à plusieurs parties (Six Polyphonic Studies) (1864) [33:27]
Trois Valses non dansantes pour le Piano-forte (c. 1838) [4:31]
Romanze: An Madam Clara Schuman (1842) [1:03]
Nocturne Posthume in A flat major (1864) [5:12]
Two Goethe Settings; Lebet Wohl (before 1843) [1:42]: Der Fischer (c. 1830) [3:45]
Grand Caprice. Solo pour Violon sur Le Roi des Aulnes de F. Schubert, Op. 26 (1842) [4:13]
Sherban Lupu (violin), Yvonne Redman (soprano), Ian Hobson (piano)
rec. 2014/2017, Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, USA
Texts and translations included

This is the penultimate volume in a groundbreaking series devoted to the promotion of all Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s compositions. I’m sure it’s by design and not by accident that the Six Polyphonic Studies and the Erlkönig transcription appear together, these being two wrist-destroying ultra-virtuoso showpieces that very few violinists have risked in recital, or on disc.

There are also ancillary pieces to consider, such as the three piano waltzes, composed around 1838, the first two of which are making their first appearances on disc. The first is a charmer, the second the most interesting and diverting, and the third – which has been recorded before – by some way the most conventional. Ian Hobson brings accustomed skill to bear here as he does in the unashamed melodic richness of the 1842 Romanze dedicated to Clara Schumann and in the Nocturne of 1864. The two Goethe settings offer contra; the first perfectly respectable but the second, Der Fischer more wide-ranging, intense and overtly Schubertian. Yvonne Redman has a rich vibrato that is rather better suited to the second song.

The main event though is the solo violin works. Sherban Lupu is an adept practitioner of this repertoire as he has shown time and again in this series and he needs all his skill to surmount the voluminous technical demands of the music, to say nothing of inflecting and characterising the Polyphonic Studies – each dedicated to a violin luminary of the time (including Joachim, Vieuxtemps and Bazzini) – in a way that brings them alive. Two of Lupu’s most prominent competitors are Ilya Gringolts on Hyperion and Ruggiero Ricci’s older recording from 1983. Gringolts is a brilliant technician but he rattles through No.2 ignoring the Con grazia instruction to a worrying degree whilst Lupu sounds rather cautiously on the beat. Ricci sounds just right. In the main Lupu prefers more expensive readings of the studies, articulating clearly but not always bringing to bear the same sense of colour and character that Ricci, in particular, locates with uncanny precision. In the Air de ballet (No.5) Gringolts sounds affected, Lupu conscientious, but Ricci’s dancing tempo takes the music by the scruff of the neck and makes it live. In the final study, the longest, with its famous The Last Rose of Summer variations Lupu makes much of its arresting start and its brooding dolce elements. His third variation however sounds very emphatic and his is a very spacious view of things. In the Erlkönig transcription one is aware of the music’s devilish difficulties and Lupu’s edgy realization lacks the panache of Gringolts.

Ernst’s biographer Mark Rowe is on hand once more to write the excellent and rewarding booklet essay. The slightly billowing acoustic is not always helpful but Lupu largely surmounts this minor limitation. If you have followed him thus far in the series, you’ll want this volume too though in the main solo violin works, to be candid, I incline to the competition.

Jonathan Woolf

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