Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1812-1865)

Complete Music for Violin and Piano - Volume 1
Fantasie brillante sur le Prophète (opera by G Meyerbeer) Op.24 (1850) [12:47]
Two Nocturnes No.1 in A major (1835) [2:44]: No.2 in E major (1829) [4:54]
Carnaval de Venise (Variations burlesques sur la Canzonetta ‘Cara mamma mia’) Op.18 (1837) [10:15]
Deux Morceaux de Salon Op.13 (1841-42) – No.1 [5:52]: No.2 [6:06]
Thème Allemand Varié Op.9 (1835) [10:43]
Rondo Allemand pour le piano et violon sur des thèmes d’Oberon Op.23 (1836) [11:49]
Rondo Papageno Op.20 (1845) [8:08]
Sherban Lupu (violin)
Ian Hobson (piano)
rec. April 2010, Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois
Unlike Paganini, the Moravian violinist Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst – their careers overlapped, indeed Ernst was something of a musical son – has not garnered a large discography. It’s not surprising. Violinists seem to operate on the principle that if you’re going to essay the works of one wrist-crunching, finger-stretching nineteenth century composer-executant of genius, let it be Paganini. This leaves Ernst in the recorded wilderness, and other than the Last Rose of Summer variations and one or two other pieces – especially those that appeal to the intrepid solo violinist – the bulk of his other works, especially those for violin and piano, have lain relatively discarded.
He wasn’t always neglected; and there have been pockets of interest over the years. Indeed, if you go back far enough you’ll find two very early recordings of two pieces in this recital; Jan Rudenyi recorded an abridgement of the Carnaval de Venise variations back in 1905, and Hugo Heermann, an important German violinist, recorded the Second of the Op.8 Nocturnes at around the same time, albeit in an arrangement for violin and orchestra.
But of far more significance is that Sherban Lupu himself has already recorded some Ernst with Peter Pettinger for Continuum [CCD1017] – back in 1990 they set down the Adagio sentimentale op.13, Airs hongrois variés Op.22, the Op.17 Polonaise, and the Rondo Papageno, the last of which he reprises here for Toccata Classics. The others will follow in subsequent volumes, of which there are to be six in total, along with new editions of the works in question, edited by Lupu and published by Toccata.
Lupu proves a lordly exponent. Ernst was quick off the mark with his Fantasie brillante sur le Prophète – Meyerbeer’s opera had been written the previous year – and Lupu demonstrates a splendid command of both its more static legato moments and its increasingly virtuosic demands. One really needs wrists of velvet steel to encompass the demands placed on them, not least in the broken chord passage – but Lupu keeps the line intact despite all this, even though there is some rough bowing around the three minute mark of the Andantino pastorale section. That is part of Lupu’s fearless approach to these works, and he’s not afraid of a resinous or crunching attack when the occasion calls for it. He’s notably nuanced in the Nocturnes, spinning a noble operatic legato in the E major, the more famous one, and dispatches the cadential passage with sang froid. I admire him and Toccata all the more for not splicing an accidental string touch.
The Carnaval de Venise variations is one of his best known pieces, at least to the string fraternity. With left hand pizzicatos, octave leaps, fearsome harmonics and the like, this calls for some superhuman bowing and left hand feats, feats indeed of digital gymnastics. What with this, it’s necessary also to convey something of the sheer wit, gall and theatrical outrageousness of the writing, something Lupu does in spades. Each variation is separately tracked here – in fact Toccata is scrupulous about separate banding, so that these nine pieces generate a total of 43 separate tracks.
The Op.13 Morceaux make for a contrasting pair; the first is a scena and there’s the gentle lyricism of the second. For all the fire and brimstone, one must not forget Ernst the charmer. The Thème Allemand Varié is a first recording, and so is the Rondo Allemand – it was co-written with pianist Charles Schunke (1801-1839) - whilst the Carnaval de Venise is heard fully, intact, for the first time here. That’s a particularly notable feature of a series like this, something one could also note of, say, Hungaroton’s Hubay series. We end with a piece Lupu played on that Continuum disc, the Rondo Papageno, another devilish finger-buster, and something of an experimental number, which plays with The Magic Flute figure and displays the violinist’s technique with dramatic flourish.
The excellent notes are by Mark Rowe, who has written a biography of the composer, and production values are high. The recorded balance rather favours Lupu over Hobson. Other than that, this is a formidable start to the Ernst series.
Jonathan Woolf

A formidable start to Toccata’s Ernst series.