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Hyperion Records

CDA67367 - Hubay: Violin Concertos Nos 3 & 4
CDA67367

Recording details: December 2002
Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: April 2003
Total duration: 68 minutes 18 seconds

PICK OF THE MONTH (CONCERTO) (The Strad)
TOP RECOMMENDATION (ORCHESTRAL) (BBC Music Magazine)

'These last two of Hubay’s four violin concertos make a most attractive addition to Hyperion’s emergent series of Romantic violin concertos … The Israeli soloist Hagai Shaham has the advantage of having been taught by one of Hubay’s pupils, Ilona Feher. Not only does he relish the Hungarian inflections in a winningly idiomatic way, he plays with an ethereal purity in the many passages of stratospheric melody. As so often, Martyn Brabbins proves a most sympathetic partner, drawing committed playing from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, helped by beautifully balanced, cleanly focused recording' (Gramophone)

'This third volume in Hyperion's Romantic Violin Concerto series may make you wonder why Hubay's Third Concerto has escaped the attention of virtually every fiddle player from Heifetz to Hahn. If, like me, you're a sucker for lashings of blistering virtuosity, strong, well-contrasted melodic content, and a substantial orchestral contribution, I promise that you will not be disappointed' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The Hungarian's Third Violin Concerto is a masterly exercise in the vein of Mendelssohn, complete with passages of astonishing virtuoso display, which the soloist Hagai Shaham accomplishes m suitably florid style. The 11 Hungarian Variations and the "Antique" Fourth Concerto make similarly exciting listening' (The Independent)

'an outstanding violinist' (The Guardian)

'Hagai Shaham offers a deftly turned, heartfelt performance … The orchestral contribution is a winning ace' (International Record Review)

'glowing, flamboyant renditions' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This essentially fun record could have gone for nothing without the superb playing of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the redoubtable Martyn Brabbins, Andrew Keener's top-notch production values and, most especially, the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Hagai Shaham. Whatever Hubay throws at him, Shaham negotiates it with apparently nonchalant ease and invariably spotless intonation' (The Strad)

'Shaham, who has no competition in these two works, plays them with great stylistic authority, providing all the dash the showy but never meretricious parts require' (Fanfare, USA)

'Shaham’s combination of grace, wit, and ardency, well supported by Brabbins, shows Hubay’s lightweight romanticism in its best light' (The Irish Times)

'Hagai Shaham plays like a foremost virtuoso, performing with total equanimity, managing the most difficult passages, which flow from his instrument with ease, and backed by an orchestra on top form' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'Hagai Shaham plays like a major virtuoso … and genuinely seems to be enjoying himself with this beautifully crafted music … Hubay was a composer of substance, and this disc makes a very strong case for him. Do try to hear it' (ClassicsToday.com)

'Le violoniste israélien Hagai Shaham … en propose une vision pleine de panache au style exemplaire' (Diapason, France)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Violin Concertos Nos 3 & 4
Scherzo: Presto  [4'20]
Adagio, moderato  [10'15]
Theme: Adagio  [1'03]
Cadenza  [2'30]
Theme: Grave  [1'32]
Preludio: Largo  [6'31]

The Romantic Piano Concerto series (currently at volume 31) has become one of Hyperion’s most popular projects to date, and this disc should help guide The Romantic Violin Concerto series to similar critical acclaim.

Hubay’s 3rd concerto mirrors the format of the piano concertos of Liszt (with whom he studied composition) in that it is performed without a break between the movements. The 4th concerto adheres to a more traditional baroque format regarding structure, melody and harmony, hence it’s title. The third work on the disc comprises a theme and twelve variations. All three works are virtuosic display pieces comparable to the concertos of Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and call for much pyrotechnics from the soloist.

Hubay is widely acknowledged as the founder of the ‘Hungarian school’ of violin playing. His list of prodigies includes the virtuoso violinist Ilona Fehér who went on to teach Hagai Shaham. The sonorous, round and broad tone that is the main beauty of the Hubay-school is unmistakable in Shaham’s performance here, making this a stunning first recording for Hyperion.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Jeno Hubay—composer, violin virtuoso and distinguished pedagogue—is best known today, despite the wide range of his compositions, for his showpieces for violin, especially the famous ‘Hejre Kati’, one of fourteen pieces from Scènes de la Csárda which is frequently played in recitals as an encore. Hubay’s list of works includes four symphonies (including the ‘Petofi’ Symphony Op 119 for soloist, choir and big orchestra), eight operas (the most famous of which is The violin-maker from Cremona Op 40), four concertos for violin and orchestra, and a concert piece for viola and orchestra. He wrote also Variations on a Hungarian Theme for violin and orchestra, a romantic sonata for violin and piano and numerous pieces for violin, many of them with a Hungarian flavour: Fantasie hongroise Op 1, Lahore Suite Op 3 No 1, Carmen—Fantaisie Brilliante Op 3 No 3, Echos de la Puszta Op 7, Zephyr Op 30 No 5, Fleur de Mai Op 37 No 1, Nocturne Op 42, Eine Pusztenfahrt Op 57, Scènes d’enfants Op 84, Fliederbusch Op 109. His educational works such as the Etudes Concertantes Op 89 and many other etudes for violin hold an important place in his output, which encompasses 126 opus numbers.

Hubay is considered in his native country to be the founder of the ‘Hungarian school’ of violin playing. The list of his prodigies includes the virtuosos Josef Szigeti, Stefi Geyer, Guila Bustabo, Franz de Vecsey, Ede Zathureczky, Jelly d’Aranyi, Zoltan Székely, Endre Gertler, Eugen Ormandy (who of course went on to be a famous conductor), Tibor Varga, Sandor Vég, Tibor Serly, Wanda Luzzato, Eddy Brown, Erna Rubinstein, Lorand and Alice Fenyves, Ilona Fehér (who taught Hagai Shaham, the violinist on this recording), and many other distinguished violinists, who collectively diffused this ‘school’ throughout many countries. The defining characteristic of this ‘school’ is rooted in its pedagogical foundation: Stefi Geyer said that Hubay ‘taught us to think individually, so that it was possible for every pupil to play differently but still have the special quality and similarity—which is the sonorous, round and broad tone that is the main beauty of the Hubay school’.

Jeno Hubay was born as Jeno Huber in Budapest on 15 September 1858 into a musical family: his father Karl was the principal violinist in the National Theatre, himself a pedagogue, composer and conductor (he conducted the Budapest premiere of Wagner’s Lohengrin in 1866). His ‘Violin method’ went through forty-seven editions. He was also the first teacher of his son. The young Jeno performed a Viotti concerto with orchestra when he was eleven years old. At the age of fifteen, he moved to Berlin to study with Joseph Joachim for three years (1873–6). Between 1876 and 1878, he studied composition with Ferenc Liszt in Budapest and frequently performed with him. From 1878 he studied in Paris with Henri Vieuxtemps, becoming a close friend, until Vieuxtemps’s death in Algiers in 1881. Hubay edited and completed some of his works posthumously, following his master’s wishes. Successful concert tours to France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands soon followed.

In 1882, at the age of twenty-three, he received an invitation from Brussels to take up the post of the principal professor of violin at the Conservatory there. Four years later he returned to Budapest permanently, as successor to his father at the Conservatory, a post he held from 1886 until 1899. At the same time he served as head of the violin school of the Academy of Music. In 1901 he performed with the young pianist Béla Bartók, who at that time studied at the academy. He was the director there from 1919 until 1934, during which time the academy was the only high school in Budapest without a ‘numerus clausus’ restriction, and consequently many of Hubay’s students were of Jewish origin. The ‘Music Hall’ in Hubay’s mansion on the bank of the River Danube in Budapest was a meeting place for many famous artists in Europe: not only musicians, but writers, poets and actors were frequently his guests.

Being a virtuoso performer, most of Hubay’s early compositions were written for his own use, and for furthering his own violin technique. However, his Hungarian-inspired compositions were also frequently performed by other violinists and were well received all over Europe. (Hubay’s understanding of ‘Hungarian’ is the gypsy version—‘A la Zingara’—as used by Liszt, Brahms and many other contemporary composers, contrary to the Magyar folk music collected and researched by Bartók and Kodály.)

The strong character of Liszt inspired Hubay’s attitude towards the modern music of his time, although the music of Brahms also served as a model. On Brahms’s visit to Budapest in the winter of 1886 the Hubay Quartet (including the famous cellist David Popper) performed his quartets from the manuscript. Hubay gave the first performance of Brahms’s Third Violin Sonata Op 108, with the composer at the piano, on 22 December 1888 in Budapest. Later he admired the music of Richard Strauss and Debussy.

For fifty years Hubay played a leading role in Hungarian music. However, during socialist times in Hungary (after the Second World War) his contribution to Hungary’s cultural life was forgotten. Perhaps his cause wasn’t helped by his marriage into a noble family (his wife was a baroness), his receiving of many honours and doctorates abroad, and his relationship with the Austro-Hungarian kingdom (he was knighted in 1909). In addition, the attitude towards Hubay was perhaps coloured by his personal discrepancies with Bartók and Kodály, who became Hungary’s national composers. Nevertheless, until his death in 1937 Hubay was a dominant figure in the musical life of his country and one of the most prominent violinists of his time.

The Violin Concerto No 3 in G minor Op 99, dedicated to Franz de Vecsey, is perhaps the most popular of Hubay’s concertos. Since the first performance in 1907 by his world famous disciple Vecsey (who was also the dedicatee of Sibelius’s concerto), many contemporary violinists performed it frequently. The composer conducted the first performance in the newly built Academy of Music. Vecsey also played the concerto with great success in London and Berlin.

This composition follows the structural plan of Liszt’s piano concertos. It has four movements, instead of the usual three, performed with almost no break between them. The ‘Introduction quasi Fantasia’ presents the main theme in the orchestra. This subject has two contrary motifs: the first is based on a descending broken chord ending on a long note, after which comes a dotted, ‘jumpy’ rhythm. The orchestra ends its exposition with a reminder of the first motif. The soloist repeats the first motif and continues with technically demanding passagework. The element of fantasy is enhanced by the sudden changes between the quiet melodic line (based on the main theme) and the rapid virtuoso passages.

The second movement Scherzo comes without a break in fast triple time, with staccato notes first in the strings, then on the flutes. The entrance of the solo violin brings a new theme in double time. The orchestra soon introduces a new theme in a major key, also in triple time, but the soloist continues his theme and persuades the orchestra to join him before they once more go their separate ways. Finally they are reunited, the orchestra in agreement with the soloist.

A short pause leads into the Adagio third movement, which begins with a long chord above which the clarinet plays a solo passage reminiscent of the theme of the first movement. There is an unexpected outburst from the orchestra before the entrance of the soloist with a calm, romantic tune characterized by its dotted rhythm; this is repeated in different keys. The expressively melodic middle section of the movement exploits the violin’s highest register, before a recapitulation of the earlier solo material.

The final movement—Allegro con fuoco—starts with a timpani roll before the strings introduce the syncopated, chromatic main theme in fugato. The soloist enters with descending trills and unaccompanied cadenza-like passages before reaching the main theme, which serves as the basic musical element of this movement. There follows a cadenza of fearsome difficulty that recalls thematic material from all three previous movements, before the violinist plays the main subject once more. Just before the end, against the main theme in the orchestra, the soloist plays a beautiful contrapuntal melody, before exchanging roles with the orchestra in a rapid coda.

The set of eleven Variations on a Hungarian Theme in D minor Op 72 begins with the orchestra presenting part of the theme (four bars) as an introduction. The solo violin is the main protagonist in this work, and his entrance is already a sort of variation with the addition of two more bars, which breaks the metrical balance of the tune. The full theme is presented by the soloist after a slow cadenza-like interlude played on the G-string.

Each variation has a typical character: the first is made of two slurred bars alternating with fast staccato triplets, the second is a set of triplets in double stops, the third has pizzicato chords and fast, bowed low-pitched semi­quavers. The fourth variation is a duet between the flute and the violin’s harmonics. The mood relaxes in the fifth variation, which brings a slower contrapuntal melody. The sixth variation is in B flat minor with fast, rising figures, ending with a short cadenza. The seventh variation introduces fast arpeggios over a plucked accompaniment. In variation eight the tune is in the violas, while the solo plays a trilled figure and double stops. The ninth variation has the orchestral violins accompanied by chords from the soloist, a texture which is inverted in the next variation. The last variation recalls the beginning of the theme, before running triplets take us to the final cadenza—this brilliant piece of showmanship brings us back to the final recapitulation of the theme.

The Violin Concerto No 4 in A minor Op 101 (‘All’antica’) differs from most of Hubay’s romantic music by being built on baroque forms. It was composed during the winter of 1906/7 and dedicated to Stefi Geyer, another one of his famous disciples.

The first movement starts with a slow Preludio, with baroque-like, traditional melody and harmony in ‘old style’, according to its name; only the romantic orchestration identifies the era of its composition. The theme of the first six bars in the orchestra serves as the basic material for this movement. Soon after the soloist’s entrance it moves from its tonic A minor to more remote tonalities, but never loses its harmonic foundation and returns safely to the home key. This feeling of harmonic stability is familiar from the old style the music emulates, complete with ‘Tierce de Picardie’ tonic major ending.

The second movement is a fast dance-like Corrente in triple time. A characteristic theme, starting with a pizzicato chord followed by jumpy quavers, provides the main subject of this movement. The ‘Musette’ middle section—named after a French bagpipe-accompanied dance here imitated by the continuous drone played by the solo violin’s open G-string—has the soloist’s melody (on the D string, simultaneously with the drone) accompanied by flutes and oboes. The repeated Corrente ends the movement. Some contemporary music critics believed this to be the best movement in Hubay’s music.

The third movement (Larghetto) introduces a religious prayer-like mood, with long-drawn, hushed melodic lines in romantic spirit. It offers a contrast to the previous dances. The main melody of the solo violin is followed by a poco animato section in minor key, with agitated double stops from the soloist. A middle section follows where the soloist polyphonically combines two melodies, after which the first theme returns. The movement ends after a calm coda recalling the previous polyphonic material.

In the Finale, after a syncopated orchestral opening, the soloist introduces a quick and angular theme, followed by passages of scales and arpeggios. This brilliant passagework culminates with a cadenza, this time not a very long one but nevertheless technically demanding. The concerto ends in an optimistic C major.

Amnon Shaham © 2003


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