Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1812-1865)
Complete Works - Volume 5
Polonaise de Concert, Op.17 (1842) [12:00]
Trois Rondinos Brillants, Op.5 (1833) [28:42]
Brilliant Variations on I tuoi frequenti palpiti, from Pacini’s Niobe, composed by G.A. Osborne and Ernst (1836) [11:12]
Romanesca fameux: Air de danse (1839) [3:53]
Variations de bravoure sur l’air national hollandaise, Op.18 (1838) [10:55]
Stephen HELLER (1813-1888)
Feuillet d’album, L’Art de Phraser, Op.16 No.14 arr. Ernst (1842) [3:02]
Sherban Lupu (violin)
Ian Hobson (piano)
rec. May 2013, Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois

The quantity of premiere recordings in this fifth volume of the complete Ernst series is high: fully fifty percent of the works have never before been graced by performance on disc. This is auspicious for the Ernst lover though the listener rather more casually interested in the development of violin performance and composition in the decade between 1833-42 may well view this as a niche-within-a-niche.

Sherban Lupu and Ian Hobson, as well as Toccata, remain indomitable. There will be seven volumes in this series charting the Moravian’s complete oeuvre and when completed it will be a memorable achievement. It’s already exceptionally fine, though this volume is more focused on occasional and co-composed pieces, majoring on the near half-hour Rondinos Brillants, Ernst’s youthful Op.5.

The Rondinos use material from operas popular and fashionable at the time, sure concert sellers therefore for the audiences lured to hear this so-called second Paganini. Ironically there seems no evidence that he ever played them, though publication would have ensured some commercial following. These pieces make no pretence at musical sophistication. They’re full of operatic panache, with enough virtuosity enshrined to scare off all but the hardiest players of the day. Whilst his Rondino on Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable is engaging, and that on Carafa’s now all-but-forgotten Natalie ingenious, it’s Halévy’s La Tentation - an opera-ballet – that deserves the most praise, a carefree balletic piece full of grace with a degree of appropriate pathos to keep the emotional temperature from sinking too low.

Mark Rowe’s characteristically excellent notes – he has, after all, written the leading biography of Ernst – presents a chart detailing the form of the Polonaise de Concert, Op.17 so you can follow the episodes with an eye on the clock counter. This shows how well-constructed Ernst’s pieces invariably are, even the slightest. Its quite formal complexity is one thing but the music needs to stand up too and the sinuously ingratiating second subject certainly does that and so too the fulsome, somewhat showy – but why not? – cadenza. His collaboration with Stephen Heller has been encountered in the series before – here it’s Ernst’s arrangement of the pianist’s lovely Feuillet d’album. This disc also charts Ernst’s collaboration with G.A. Osborne in the Brilliant Variations based on an aria from Pacini’s Niobe, a satisfying but not wholly distinctive piece. The simple and unvarnished charm of Romanesca fameux is fully conveyed in this fine performance and Ernst’s bravura piece of panache – his variations on the Dutch National Anthem – ends the recital on quite a high note.

Standards are very much up to the expected level by now – a certain very occasional thinness in Lupu’s tone is of no great consequence – so we can look forward to volume six with expectation.

Jonathan Woolf
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