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Hyperion Records

CDA67498 - Hubay: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2

Recording details: December 2004
Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2006
Total duration: 72 minutes 51 seconds


'Hagai Shaham is something very special indeed with a sound that reminds me of Heifetz at his most silkily seductive. Both of these blazingly romantic works should be in concert halls the world over' (Gramophone)

'Hagai Shaham does wonders for these neglected scores, playing with beguiling purity throughout the range, and a heart-felt intensity that makes the most of Hubay's penchant for soaring E-string melody. Typically alert and sensitive backing from the BBC Scottish SO under the direction of Martyn Brabbins and luxury sound round out an excellent release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The performances are uniformly excellent: Hagai Shaham is a supple soloist and gives the music all the support he can' (The Guardian)

'With Shaham, Hubay's legacy is in very safe hands indeed. He delivers these works with a solid technique and commanding authenticity. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins provide rather more than just support, aided by a reasonably natural recorded balance which lets Hubay's colouristic touches have full effect' (International Record Review)

'You wonder why all three works are not in the repertoire of every violinist. But then not every violinist sounds like Shaham. He really is something very special indeed. It almost goes without saying that that BBC Scottish and Brabbins provide their customary exemplary, colourful support. Earmarked for one of my discs of the year' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hubay's works should come as a most welcome addition to the recorded repertoire and Shaham's performances as an enthusiastic introduction. Recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'The virtuosic demands of Hubay’s music are more than adequately met by the formidable technique of violinist Hagai Shaham. One has to admire and be grateful to such musicians as he, for learning the music on this disc probably carries with it little promise that concert engagements of Hubay’s music will follow' (MusicWeb International)

'On retrouve dans cet album toutes les qualités de jeu du soliste qui nous avaient séduits dans les précédents volumes, finesse de timbres, agilité, panache, sobriété de style … Shaham fait preuve une fois encore d'une virtuosité scintillante' (Diapason, France)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
Allegro con fuoco  [11'11]
Larghetto  [7'02]

Israeli-born Hagai Shaham here completes his survey of Hubay’s violin concertos, with these immaculate accounts of Nos 1 & 2 (Nos 3 & 4 appear on volume 3 of The Romantic Violin Concerto series [CDA67367]).

Hubay is widely acknowledged as the founder of the ‘Hungarian school’ of violin playing. His list of protégées 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.

Accompanying the two violin concertos we have Hubay’s Suite for violin and orchestra, Op 5; originally written for violin and piano before being revised with orchestral parts it adheres to a more traditional baroque format regarding structure, melody and harmony.

If you want oodles of explosive virtuosity, rich melodies and substantial orchestral passages then this disc is for you.

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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 large 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 also composed 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: Fantaisie hongroise Op 1, Lahore Suite Op 3 No 1, Carmen—Fantaisie brillante 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, and Fliederbusch Op 109. His educational works such as the Études concertantes Op 89 and many other études 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 protégés includes the virtuosos Joseph Szigeti, Stefi Geyer, Guila Bustabo, Franz de Vécsey, Ede Zathureczky, Jelly d’Aranyi, Zoltán Székely, André Gertler, Eugen Ormandy (who of course went on to be a famous conductor), Tibor Varga, Sándor Végh, 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’ 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 to take up the post of the principal professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory. 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—‘À 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 manuscripts. 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 differences 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 1 in A minor Op 21 (‘Concerto dramatique’), dedicated to Hubay’s former teacher Joseph Joachim, was composed in 1884–5 while Hubay was in Brussels, where he was head of violin at the Conservatory. This concerto, the first of Hubay’s four, is written in the late-Romantic style and influenced by contemporary composers and violin-virtuosos. Hubay performed this work in 1908 at a concert to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, when his students Joseph Szigeti, Franz de Vécsey and Stefi Geyer performed his other three violin concertos.

The first movement unfolds a classical Sonata–Allegro form, but with the free use of solo cadenzas, these outbursts of virtuoso passages weaving between the movement’s main themes. The opening theme is introduced by the full orchestra, forte, in military style, preparing the background for the soloist’s entrance. The solo violin embarks on a short and unexpected cadenza in a free tempo, which leads to a mellow melody interrupted by further virtuoso passages. Another cadenza leads to the main theme presented by the violin. The woodwinds announce the second theme in the tonic major against a background of high-pitched trills from the soloist. This theme is elaborated in a fantasy-like development section marked by a dialogue between the soloist and orchestra. The thematic material is recapitulated, incorporating further short cadenzas from the soloist, before the movement concludes with an animated coda.

The contrasting second movement, Andante ma non tanto, is peaceful in character. It follows without interruption and begins with a dialogue between the harp and flute against a soft orchestral background. The soloist, who plays throughout the movement, presents a sweet song-like melody. The pastoral mood is interrupted only by a brief interlude of excitement, after which the main calm tune returns.

The orchestral opening of the third movement, Allegro con brio, presents a short, highly rhythmical motif which repeats itself obstinately until the soloist’s entrance. It is obstructed by short cadenzas, leading to a second theme. A slower, quieter tune is introduced by the orchestra in the major key, repeated by the soloist and then succeeded by an accompaniment of two harps. After the recapitulation of the main theme the solo violin plays the first rhythmical motif over the second movement’s theme played by the orchestra, before the work ends with a fiery coda.

The Violin Concerto No 2 in E major Op 90 was composed in about 1900 and dedicated to Oscar Studer. It begins with an exposition of a folk-like first theme played by the full orchestra. The solo violin enters with triplet figurations before the main theme recurs in a sequence of shifting tonalities; the soloist then presents the quieter contrasting second theme. The development section uses motifs from the two main themes before a third idea—a quicker tune based on triplets and syncopations—leads to the recapitulation. This movement concludes with solo-violin passagework and arpeggios suspended over the main theme in the orchestra; there is no cadenza.

In the second movement, Larghetto, the solo violin presents a lyrical and Romantic ‘song without words’ followed by improvisatory variations. The middle section portrays a dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, and after a reprise of the opening song-like theme the movement ends with the high-pitched tone of the violin. The final Allegro non troppo opens with an orchestral introduction based on a repeated motif before the soloist presents a short and joyful dance theme. The rondo-like first part repeats this theme with the soloist elaborating on it with technically demanding variations. A short intermezzo presents a quiet minor-key melody before the rondo tune returns and leads to a brilliant coda.

Hubay’s Suite for violin and orchestra Op 5—composed in 1877–8, revised in 1881 and dedicated to Carolus Agghazi—is typical of Romantic suites in alluding to the dance origins of the Baroque suite while essentially being a free collection of genre pieces. This is one of Hubay’s early works, originally written for violin and piano before being revised with orchestral accompaniment, and it maintains a traditional four-movement form.

The ‘Gavotte’ preserves the character of the Baroque dance. After a short orchestral introduction the first theme is presented by the soloist, while the second theme consists of a contrasting two-part melody. After the repetition of the first theme, the soloist plays a fast variation on the second theme, which is also heard on the woodwinds. A return of the first theme completes the movement.

The ‘Idylle’, a pastoral siciliano-like movement, was also published and performed as an independent piece. In a straightforward A–B–A structure, the movement opens with an orchestral introduction before the soloist plays the main melody. The minor-key middle section is slightly faster and dynamically developed. The coda ends on the high harmonics of the solo violin.

The third movement, ‘Intermezzo’, starts with triplets in the strings. Over this backdrop the violin presents a marching tune. A more mellow, melodic section in the minor key leads to the marching first theme played by the horns. The soloist develops demanding technical variations on this theme before the slower melodic section appears in a different tonality, ending in high trills on the violin. The movement ends with a restatement of the opening theme.

The closing ‘Finale’ recalls the ‘Gavotte’ in its introduction, as if completing the circle. The tempo then changes to Allegro vivace and the soloist launches on a technically demanding run of triplets with a simple accompaniment in the strings. The middle section presents a second theme, characterized by quaver triplets first played by the orchestra. This theme is developed in different keys and leads to a short cadenza. As with the other movements in this suite, a recapitulation of the first theme concludes the movement.

Amnon Shaham © 2006

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