Jeno HUBAY (1858-1937)
Violin concerto no.1 in A minor, op.21, Concerto dramatique (1884) [30:30]
Scènes de la Csárda: no.3 Maros vize folyik csendesen, op.18 (1882-1883) [7:13]
Scènes de la Csárda: no.4 Hejre Kati, op.32 (1882-1886) [6:19]
Violin concerto no.2 in E major, op.90 (1904) [26:45]
Chloë Hanslip (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia
rec. 23-24 June 2008; The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK
NAXOS 8.572078 [70:46]
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the team meetings of Naxos’s marketing department! I would love to know, in particular, why they decide that certain of that company’s new releases, like this one, should come in those extremely irritating – in fact, positively useless - cardboard slipcases while other CDs are sold merely in their plastic jewel cases.
Moreover, why, when the composer’s likeness is considered entirely appropriate and adequate for the booklet cover that fronts the jewel case, should the exterior cardboard packaging be printed with a completely different image of the artist? That happened in the case of the 2008 Godard violin concertos release as well as this one – and if Naxos are really intending to present these discs as a sort of Chloë Hanslip Edition, then they ought at least to be consistent with the inside packaging as well.
One might have assumed that, having attracted such a rising star as Ms. Hanslip to the label, Naxos would be setting down some of the milestones of the concerto repertoire with her: Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius or whatever. In fact, though, the company’s proclaimed aim of exploring into musical history’s murkiest corners fits in very well with their soloist’s own philosophy as expressed on her website (http://www.chloehanslip.com/index.htm) where she tells us that “I think its [sic.] important to have as broad a taste in music as possible!!”
Thus, Chloë Hanslip continues her crusade to encourage CD buyers to explore less well known – or even downright unknown – works, be they the John Adams concerto (reviewed here http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/oct06/Adams_Hanslip_8559302.htm) or those of Benjamin Godard (reviewed here http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2008/Mar08/godard_8570554.htm). Now she moves on to the generally forgotten Hungarian violinist, pedagogue and composer Jeno Hubay.
Perhaps Hyperion’s two volumes in its sadly sporadic “Romantic violin concerto” series marked a sea change in Hubay’s fortunes on disc in recent years. Volume 3 showcased his third and fourth concertos as well as the Variations sur un theme hongrois (see here http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/may04/Hubay_concertos3_4.htm), while volume 6 included the first and second concertos as well as the Suite for violin and orchestra, op.5 (see here http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/may06/Hubay_CDA67498.htm). Hyperion’s chosen soloist, performing with exemplary style and panache, was Hagai Shaham and he was accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins. Both discs were very warmly welcomed by my colleagues Jonathan Woolf and Christopher Fifield.
Chloë Hanslip’s new accounts, let it be said right away, are right up there with Shaham’s. Her artistic insight and her well nigh flawless technique are both put very effectively to the service of these comparatively lightweight but undeniably attractive works and the disc will certainly add to her fast growing reputation (Christopher Latham’s assessment that “she is likely to become the greatest violinist of her generation” is merely one of many such plaudits recorded on her website).
Hanslip’s sympathy with Hubay’s characteristic Hungarian/gypsy idiom is apparent right from the very opening of the first concerto. She displays all the passion, lyricism, flamboyance and virtuosity that the score requires make its maximum effect (Concerto dramatique actually turns out to be a rather misleading title for, once the overtly “dramatic” orchestral introduction is out of the way, the dominant atmosphere is one of Romantic sensibility). Everything is, in fact, so well done that a great deal of the playing sounds entirely spontaneous and improvised such as a gypsy fiddler might produce – a fine tribute to Hubay’s cleverly crafted the score that was surely designed to give that very effect. The slow movement is the most distinctive and successful of the three, with an intensely yearning melodic line that Hanslip plays for all – and possibly more – that it is worth. The last movement has the expected zigeuner fireworks but also an unexpected application of the brakes at 3:06 when we are given a luscious “big tune” that sounds like something right out of a Hollywood weepie. Great stuff!
The second concerto does not make quite such an immediate impact, though the problem is the rather less striking score rather than the performance. To be sure, Hanslip performs once more with strength of purpose and confident energy, tossing off the virtuoso effects with apparent nonchalance. The slow movement again makes the strongest impression as her violin sings out its rather sad, plaintive melody in an entirely sensitive and idiomatic way.
The two fillers from Scènes de la Csárda are most enjoyable. No.3 reminds one irresistibly – even in its thematic material – of that old Palm Court favourite Monti’s Czardas and it and its companion are performed with verve and immense style. Close your eyes and you will easily be transported to a Budapest cafe where a gypsy violinist serenades you as you enjoy your dish of székelygulyás or sip your after-dinner glass of tokaj (though, for playing of this quality, he’d probably be expecting a very generous tip indeed).
Of course, in that Hungarian cafe the violinist would not have had the support of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. On these recordings the microphone generally favours the soloist – but then, of course, Hubay’s writing does too. As a result, the orchestra’s contribution can, especially in the concertos, be somewhat generalised (an effect somewhat exaggerated by the recording venue’s rather generous acoustics) but that did not worry me too much.
All in all, then, this is a most enjoyable disc. I’d find it difficult to choose on artistic grounds between it and Hagai Shaham’s Hyperion account, but the price band certainly counts in Naxos’s favour. If you don’t own Shaham’s version and pennies are short, Hanslip’s might well therefore be the best bet – but if you already own the older disc what’s another five pounds or so in order to hear possibly “the greatest violinist of her generation” in full flight?