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Jenö HUBAY (1858-1937)
Violin Concerto No.3 in G minor Op.99 (1906/07)
Violin Concerto No.4 in A minor Op.101 (All’antica) (1906/07)
Variations sur un thème hongrois Op.72
Hagai Shaham (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
Recorded in Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, 13-14 December 2002
HYPERION CDA67367 [68.34]

Casual interest in Hubay will lead one to Hejre Kati and to other of his idiomatic morceaux pieces for the violin but will certainly not prepare one for the full breadth of his compositions. That other violinistic recital standby of old, ‘The Violin-Maker from Cremona’, his Op.40 is actually extracted from Hubay’s opera of the same name. This is only one of his eight operas, four symphonies and four violin concertos. This in addition to various orchestral pieces, salon works and the mass of pedagogic material that Hubay produced throughout his long career and the vast, fathomless list of his violin students; from Szigeti, Vecsey, d’Aranyi and Eddy Brown to Tibor Serly, Stefi Geyer and Eugene Ormandy (then in his original guise as Jenö Blaü, aspirant fiddle soloist).

The last two Violin Concertos are played here by Hagai Shaham who is a pupil of Ilona Fehér, herself a Hubay student - which will add paprika to the idea of violinistic genealogies. Both concertos date from 1906/07. The Third, dedicated to his pupil Vecsey (who was also the dedicatee of the Sibelius Concerto) is a most attractive work cast in four movements. It opens with some virtuosic passagework, vigorous and demanding, but it’s in the more reflective, intimate moments that Hubay most impresses, not least when soloist Shaham intensifies his vibrato usage correspondingly. Little flecks of waterfall delicacy animate the writing. The bristly Scherzo second movement reminds me of Saint-Saëns’ concerted works for violin; it has the panache and authority, and the technical demands, but rather lacks the melodic interest of the French works. One notable feature of Shaham’s playing is that any vestige of the old besetting sin of the Hubay school, the nagging, slow vibrato certainly hasn’t survived – he plays with clarity and at all times demonstrates flexible vibrato usage. In the third movement Adagio – the longest of the four – Shaham brings chocolaty lower string expressivity to his expert cantilever, buttressing the theatrical and dramatic opening paragraphs with great warmth and feeling. And in the flourish of the finale, with a bristly fugato that reminds one of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, is capped by a virtuosically powerful cadenza – taxing if a bit bland.

The Fourth Concerto owes a debt to the idea, at least, of baroque form but thematically this is a rich late Romantic work that reminds one of Bruch. The opening Preludio is intense, in non-sonata form, and throughout there are little piquancies that will please, such as the off-the-beat pizzicati in the second movement or the baroque-folk sounding drone in the same Corrente e Musette. Again Hubay spins an effortlessly attractive Adagio (Larghetto) though it’s not necessarily superior to the slightly earlier concerto. The finale though is full of syncopation and panache with a delicious second subject and plenty of motoric fireworks for the nimble-fingered soloist. To complete the disc we have the Op.72 Variations made up of an Introduction and Theme, eleven brief (sometimes very brief) Variations, a big cadenza, and the reprise of the Theme, now marked grave. Clearly owing a big debt to the Paganini Caprices we encounter plenty of explosive technique, pizzicati, tremolandi and the like – though given the rather skeletal orchestral accompaniment I wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense recast as a solo work.

The recording is spacious, warm and entirely sympathetic and Brabbins and the BBC Scottish prove themselves to be as adroit in their accompaniment as they have elsewhere in these Hyperion series of disinterment. As I said, Shaham plays with fire and sensitivity. There is a Hungaroton coupling of the concertos available with Vilmos Szabadi and the North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra under László Kovács; I’ve not heard it but it would have to go some to better this auspicious release.

Jonathan Woolf


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