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Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1814-1865)
Music for Violin and Orchestra

Fantaisie Brillante sur la Marche et la Romance d'Otello de Rossini for violin and orchestra, Op. 11 (pub.1839) [15:01]
Concerto in F sharp minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 23 (Concerto Allegro-Pathétique) (pub.1850) [19:46]
Elégie sur la mort d'un objet chéri for violin and orchestra, Op. 10 (pub. 1840) [6:17]
Concertino in D major for violin and orchestra, Op. 12 (pub. 1839) [20:25]
Rondo Papageno for violin and orchestra, Op. 20 (pub.1846) [9:01]
Ilya Grubert (violin)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 14 December 2004, 1 May 2005, Studio 5, Russian State TV & Radio Company Kultura, Moscow, Russia. DDD
NAXOS 8.557565 [70:30]

Naxos as part of their continuing series the Violin Virtuoso Composers have released a new recording devoted to the virtually forgotten Moravian-born composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. The issue comprises five works for violin and orchestra, all cast in a single movement, including two quasi violin concertos: the Concertino, Op. 12 and the Concerto Pathétique, Op. 23.

Ernst’s compositions were predominantly intended for his own use like many of those of his fellow virtuoso composers, such as Joseph Joachim, Giovanni Viotti, Ferdinand David, Henri Vieuxtemps, Camillo Sivori, Henryk Wieniawski and Niccolò Paganini. In line with the custom of the day it is likely that Ernst would not allow the tyranny of the written page and would feel free to improvise and adapt his own scores and those of others.

Performing as a virtuoso for the vast majority of his life, predominantly around Europe and also Russia, Ernst is now largely forgotten as a composer. In his day he was held in great esteem, rather like the stars of popular music today, and was acclaimed by no less than Joseph Joachim who stated that, "Ernst was the greatest violinist I have heard; he towered above all others." He was praised by luminaries such as Berlioz and Mendelssohn, appearing on the concert platform several times with the latter and also with Paganini.

The first score here is the Fantaisie Brillante sur la Marche et la Romance d'Otello de Rossini is known as the Othello Fantasy. It uses themes from Rossini’s three act opera Otello (1816). The Concerto Pathétique is a substantial work and carries a dedication to fellow violinist Ferdinand David. Described as a Chant for Violin the Elégie sur la mort d'un objet chéri appeared after its publication in a version with an Introduction composed by eminent violinist Louis Spohr and the Concertino in D major could be regarded as a single movement violin concerto. The final score is the light-hearted Rondo Papageno which not surprisingly is influenced by Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

On this recording the Latvian-born soloist Ilya Grubert plays a 1740 Guarneri violin that evidently was once owned by virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski. He proves to be very much equal to the considerable demands that Ernst places on members of the violin playing fraternity. In the Othello Fantasy I especially enjoyed Grubert’s warm and tender playing from 8:03 in the ‘Willow Song’ section. From the introduction of the violin at 3:27 Grubert in the Concerto Pathétique impresses with a confident swagger throughout the adventurous writing. The short Elégie that could have been the slow movement to a violin concerto and here is performed in a manner that is gloriously brooding and winsome. The Concertino provides Grubert with plenty of opportunity for technical display as well as dramatic expression. I loved his precisely assured and exciting playing in the virtuoso passage at 3:34-4:09 and his outpouring of warmly romantic lyricism at 4:26-5:33 is impressively poised. In the Rondo Papageno Grubert adroitly blends virtuosity with lyricism and at 7:54-8:49 plays strikingly with lightning-fast pyrotechnics in a dazzling dash to the finishing line. The orchestra provide secure and sympathetic accompaniment throughout and are particularly impressive in the Concertino with the waltz-like section at 17:56-20:17.

The sound quality from the Kultura Studio in Moscow is clear and well-balanced and the disc enjoys the advantage of interesting and informative notes from Keith Anderson. Grubert’s palette of sound is impressive and his virtuosity remarkable. These scores deserve a wider audience, especially in performances as excellent as these.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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