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Heinrich ERNST (1812-1865)
Fantaisie brillante sur la Marche et la Romance d’Otello de Rossini Op.11 (1837-38) [15:21]
Deux Morceaux de Salon Op.13 (1841-42) – No.1 [6:08]; No.2 [6:07]
La Romanesca [3:45]
Élégie sur la mort d’un objet chéri, Op.10; introduction by Louis Spohr [10:48]
String Quartet in B flat major, Op.26 (1862) [26:04]
Two Nocturnes, Op.8 No.1 in A major (1835) [3:09]; No.2 in E major (1829) [5:04]
Feuillet d'Album (after Stephen Heller), for violin and piano [2:17]
Pensées Fugitives written with Stephen Heller (1839-42) [37:26]
Six Morceaux de Salon, Op.25: No.1 Allegretto [4:17]; No.2 Notturno [4:18]; No.3 Allegro molto moderato [5:03]
Deux Romances, Op.15 No.1 [2:34]; No.2 [3:13]
Souvenir du Pré aux Clercs, written with Charles Schunke (1834) [15:48]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Rêverie for viola and piano [6:05]
Thomas Christian (violin and viola)
Fabian Rieser (violin); Gertrud Weinmeister (viola); Bruno Weinmeister (cello); Hans Winking (double bass); Evgeny Sinayskiy (piano)
rec. February 2014, Hans-Rosbaud Studio Baden-Baden, SWR
CPO 777 894-2 [78:18 +78:58]

Gone are the days when Ernst was represented on disc by only a handful of pieces. A strong showing on Toccata Classics from Sherban Lupu and Ian Hobson (vol.1 vol.2 vol.3 vol.4) ensures that his compositional career can be seen in far more detail than ever before but it’s helpful to have new discs to test the waters still further.

There’s something of a novel feature in many of the pieces on this CPO disc, which is that Thomas Christian is frequently accompanied by his own string ensemble – a compromise between just piano accompaniment and the necessity of enlisting an orchestra. This may well have been a feature of Ernst’s performance practice, but it’s unusual on disc, and makes direct comparison between competing performances difficult. Additionally, the arrangements are not by Ernst, or a copyist, but by Thomas Christian and Hans Winking, another factor to be borne in mind.

Nevertheless, this twofer ranges pleasingly across Ernst’s oeuvre. The Fantaisie Brillante derived from Rossini’s Otello is a forerunner of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, and not noticeably inferior to it – something audiences would find out if more fiddlers took it up in recitals. The polyphonic virtuosity and Paganinian ethos are richly exciting features but there’s no denying that the string accompaniment – a string quartet of violin, viola, cello and double bass – is less incisive: Lupu is much faster, and tonally more malleable, more inclined to inflect the line in pursuit of operatic vocalism. Christian, in comparison, is suavely cosmopolitan. The two Op.13 pieces are efficiently played – again with a quartet backing – and some deft diminuendi illuminate the Adagio, the second of the two. One of Ernst’s most performed pieces is the Élégie, Op.10, largely because of its frankly expressive-emotive quality. Again the string accompaniment employed tends to vest a rather slow-moving quality to the piece, and to muddy the clear Beethovenian allusions, and whereas stylistically Lupu gets to the heart of the matter, Christian’s tensile command somewhat misses the point. I wish CPO had thought to separately track the introduction, which is taken from Spohr’s Sixth Violin Concerto.

The string quartet is played by Christian’s own group and it competes with Toccata’s Ciompi Quartet. Both are convincing traversals, and both take very similar approaches to tempi and tempo variations. On balance the Christian group is the one that plays with just a bit more extroversion and verve. Fortunately, we have piano accompaniment for the two Op.8 Nocturnes – the second of which Heine found so beautiful when he heard it in 1844, a decade or so after its composition. The second disc is dominated by the sequence of Pensées fugitives that Ernst co-composed with Stephen Heller. Enjoyable though this performance is – Evgeny Sinayskiy is an adept collaborator – I miss the greater sense of colour and character that Lupu and Hobson bring to the cycle. Sample the far greater agitato in the latter’s reading of the first of fourteen, or the way in which they generate more affectionate simplicity in their phrasing of the Abschied (No.6 of the cycle). The other big work here is the Souvenir du Pré aux Clercs but this is too stolidly played, Lupu and Hobson being far more observant and witty adjudicators of Ernst and his collaborator, Schunke’s, music. Also, where is the cadenza between the third variation and the following Andante section? Christian lays down his fiddle and takes up the viola for Wieniawski’s Rêverie, which the composer dedicated to Ernst. It’s nice to hear – but why not give us another Ernst original instead?

I have mixed views about this twofer. The playing is often eloquent and accomplished but occasionally stylistically neutral: wit and operatic panache are downplayed and the string accompaniments are not original and are a touch cumbersome.

Jonathan Woolf


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