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Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Violin Discoveries
Scènes Sentimentales (1885) No 3 [6:15]; No 5 [5:23]
Élégie (c.1912) [5:11]
Trois Études-Poèmes (1924) [20:11]
Petite fantaisie Romantique (c.1901) [5:06]
Violin Concerto in G minor (1910, orch. Sabin Pautza, 2017) [25:08]
Sherban Lupu (violin)
Henri Bonamy (piano)
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. March 2019, Brasov, Romania; March 2020, Liepāja, Latvia (Concerto)
DIVINE ART DDA25222 [67:17]

Romanian-born Sherban Lupu, a superior exponent of the music of his compatriot Enescu, is also a strong presence on Toccata’s discs in their collective devotion to the finger-busting pyrotechnics of the Moravian, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. Divine Art’s release pursues a similarly exploratory but more focused examination of recent archive discoveries of the music of Ysaÿe.

It might be worthwhile to note here that there is a great deal of confusion regarding the Violin Concertos in particular. Examples new to disc do appear and because they carry no opus number – they weren’t published, in the main - they are only distinguishable by their key and year of composition, if known. Someone is going to have to get to grips with this legacy and create a proper catalogue of his music, but before that can happen these things need to be discovered and edited.

Therefore, it was valuable that Lupu visited the music libraries in Brussels and Liège in 2012 and found numerous examples of works new to the Ysaÿe recorded catalogue, largely in Liège, the city of the violinist-composer’s birth. With the exception of the Petite fantaisie Romantique, everything is new to disc and given that Lupu studied for a number of years with Joseph Gingold, an Ysaÿe student, one can expect stylish and apt musicianship from him.

He makes no secret of his age and was around 67 when the first tranche of recordings was made but has retained technical control and his tonal breadth and colour and he’s edited, fingered and bowed the new music that has emerged from the archives. There are two Scènes Sentimentales dating from 1885, the first (No 3) a brilliantly youthful and virtuosic piece with a refined romanticism at its core and carrying an inbuilt challenge to a performer’s intonation. No 5, by contrast, has an ingratiating salon intimacy though it carries incremental expressive intensity. Élégie is a much later work composed around 1912 and bears the title Lupu gave it, as the manuscript is untitled. He also added the final bars. It’s a diverting piece, largely because of its harmonic interest and in terms of its changeable moods which are largely melancholy but subject to some typically demanding technical excursions.

The Trois Études-Poèmes were composed at around the same time that Ysaÿe wrote his great solo violin sonatas. There’s a sinuous Iberian aura in the first, its dance measures impressively galvanizing, whilst the central one is very much more along etude-like lines. By far the most substantial and noteworthy is the long, 12-minute final panel. This encodes a Funeral March but it’s couched in an intriguingly rhapsodic form that reaches an apex of disquiet and emotional intensity. This is a particularly difficult piece to get around and Lupu serves the composer well with only a few moments of strain. It’s fairly clear why the charming, if conventional Petite fantaisie Romantique is the only piece here to have been recorded. In all these works Lupu is sympathetically accompanied by Henri Bonamy.

The biggest work is the Violin Concerto in G minor of 1910. It went through a rather complex history going back as far as 1893, which you can read about in Qianyi Fan’s excellent and detailed booklet notes. Probably intended for Enescu, later the dedicatee of the ‘Ballade’ solo sonata, it lacks orchestration and so this has been provided by Sabin Pautza. There’s a prayerful component to the opening followed immediately by a rather Elgarian passage – a product of their shared late-romantic inheritance, one supposes, though Ysaÿe did famously give the German première of the Elgar Concerto in January 1912, shortly after the final version of his own G minor concerto was written. Aptly orchestrated, one surmises, the concerto has attractive, elastic lyric paragraphs, quietly housing some Debussian-Delian passages. There’s a good cadenza and the work ends boldly with a confident peroration, resonantly delivered by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra under Paul Mann.

This is a valuable disc that, in its presentation of so many ‘discoveries’, offers insights into Ysaÿe’s compositional directions over four decades.

Jonathan Woolf

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