Volume four in the Complete Ernst series from Toccata takes on his major work for solo violin and orchestral forces, the Concerto in F sharp minor, composed in 1846 in Leipzig. It was there that he took advice from Ferdinand David, dedicatee and first performer of the Mendelssohn Concerto and the man who also received the dedication of Ernst’s own Concerto.
As Mark Rowe’s customarily excellent notes make clear, Ernst found a new seriousness in this work and its form is important; compressed yet with a quasi-improvisatory freedom. Thematically it is also removed from the more frivolous aspects of virtuoso vehicles of the time and it’s a moot point as to whether this is, in fact, a one-movement work or a concerto subdivided into three linked movements. For the record, Toccata has generously given six tracking points to include some important structural pillars.
It requires a thoughtful and stylistically aware violinist to chart the course between the lyrical and the more tensely terse and introspective aspects of the concerto. There is surely no-one today so actively involved in Ernst’s music as Sherban Lupu and he navigates these expressive poles with great assurance. Above all, there are his timbral inflexions and phrasal grace to consider, the way he appreciates the requirements of cantilena and colour in his tone. Shading and shaping, technical virtuosity - these include some perilous demands as the work progresses - are all conveyed with subtlety and finesse.
The Concertino in D major is both earlier and less interesting. It’s a genial, rather obvious virtuoso vehicle couched in Paganinian mould. And whilst there are plenty of digital and expressive opportunities it doesn’t add up to so satisfying a whole. That said, the question of Ernst’s pathos is well dealt with in the slow movement where Lupu responds with kindred tone.
A competitor disc here is on Naxos 8.557565, in which Ilya Grubert, with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky, performs both the Concerto and Concertino. In the Concertino, Grubert proves a more conventional player, his phrasing being suave, and his tone less malleable and plastic than that of Lupu. In the major work, the Concerto, Grubert is altogether more cosmopolitan in his responses, drawing attention to the admittedly exceedingly difficult octave passage rather than riding through it, as does Lupu. I prefer Lupu and Ian Hobson. But one cannot forget the old 1974 Supraphon LP starring violinist Lukas David with the Prague Symphony under Libor Hlváček. There is much to admire about this performance, and in its panache and bravura it is superior to either CD recording. The wind playing is also more personable and more characterful than that of Ian Hobson’s Sinfonia da Camera. Aaron Rosand’s old Vox performance, alas, is both very fast and very superficial.
Couplings may, however, alter perceptions. Toccata offers the String Quartet in B flat major, about which little positive can really be said, other than I’m glad that it was recorded and it has a lively Allegretto
. The first movement is terribly stodgy but the Ciompi String Quartet does what it can. Grubert offers the Fantasie brillant on the Romance from Otello
, Op.11, the Elégie sur le mort d’une object chéri
and the Op.20 Rondo. These are all works central to Lupu’s Toccata series.
If I were to make the choice, I’d go once more for Lupu, and those who have followed him thus far will not be disappointed with his playing.
Review of earlier releases in this series
~~ Volume 2
~~ Volume 3