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Hyperion Records

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Violin Player to the Moon by Hans Thoma (1839-1924)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67619
Recording details: November 2006
Crear Studio, Argyll, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 28 minutes 58 seconds

'Ilya Gringolts has the measure of both the virtuosity and the romantic sensibility—his performance of the fantasy is quite outstanding … he plays the lyrical passages with an intense commitment that's reminiscent of Heifetz. His imaginative grasp of the music's expressive character makes for a gripping account of the Élégie … and the unaccompanied items fare just as well … Gringolts' technical command, beautiful intonation and exciting, deep involvement with the music make for a great listening experience' (Gramophone)

'Blessings on Ilya Gringolts for having the cojones, as well as the fingers, to record Ernst's Six Polyphonic Studies for Solo Violin … the performances are among the greatest displays of virtuosity I have ever heard. Gringolts even supasses his teacher Itzhak Perlman in the magic fingers department' (American Record Guide)

'In the right hands, such as those belonging to Ilya Gringolts, it actually achieves a degree of musical viability … what profundity there is comes from the listener's shivering realization that the humanly impossible is being achieved right before his ears, and apparently without effort. Even the formidable Midori, in her Carnegie Hall recital, doesn't make us forget how absurdly difficult this work is, the way that Gringolts does … Gringolts's cantabile playing is as remarkable as his agility. Pianist Ashley Wass … is rock solid and always complementary' (International Record Review)

'His playing [Ernst] and his compositions astonished and delighted thousands. His transcription of Schubert's Erlkönig, played here with fiery vehemence by the young Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts, is a demonic tour de force worthy of Paganini himself' (The Sunday Times)

'Ilya Gringolts meets Ernst's formidable technical challenges with apparent ease, and his playing here is virtually flawless even in the most taxing flights of virtuosity … he also dispatches Ernst's transcription of Schubert's Erlkönig with breathtaking aplomb and close regard for the dark atmosphere and sinister detail of Goethe's poem. Pianist Ashley Wass provides sterling support in the accompanied works, especially in the soulful, recitative-like introduction of the Élégie, in which Gringolts is at his own lyrical and intimately expressive … violin virtuosity reigns supreme' (The Strad)

'No one has come close to equalling the technical prowess and musicality that Gringolts displays here' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Gringolts represents Ernst as a sensitive yet large-scale player, far removed from either empty display or stultifying classroom academicism. Nevertheless, he out-sparkles Ricci in the Second Study, which he takes at a tempo I would never have imagined possible … in the next Study, dedicated to Joachim, he slows down to reveal the full range of sentiment with which Ernst laced it … the Élégie … offers perhaps a purer strain of lyricism, and Gringolts, playing it with more panache than might be expected in such a work, makes its romantic rhetoric surprisingly convincing … Gringolts’s collection should be essential listening for violinists, offering a sort of authentic recreation that should interest much wider audiences as well; heartily recommended to them too' (Fanfare, USA)

'Violinists will marvel at the astonishing ability of Ilya Gringolts in getting his fingers around this music with pianist Ashley Wass' (Liverpool Daily Post)

'The playing must be heard to be believed … Ernst's music bristles with all imaginable—and some unimaginable—instrumental tricks … Gringolts performs all these hair-raising feats with apparent ease. His intonation never falters, his tone reamins pure … most admirably, he makes the acrobatics sound like music, with melodies that sing and soar, elegant phrasing, tonal variety, charm and expressiveness' (Strings, USA)

Sechs Mehrstimmige Etüden
published shortly after Ernst's death

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For all the literary antecedents of some of his music, Ernst was also a pure artist who was able to concentrate on the development of musical ideas and techniques in themselves and for deeply expressive, boldly exploratory effect; and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in his final work, the set of Sechs mehrstimmige Etüden which occupied his last years and first appeared shortly after his death. Like Paganini’s solo Caprices, the minor-key Études of Alkan or the Transcendental Études of Liszt, these astonishing pieces represent one of the summits of the instrumentalist’s repertoire. In the course of writing them Ernst evolved a vocabulary of signs—some traditional, some new—to indicate whole or half bows, playing with the middle, point or nut, resting the finger on the various strings, striking the string soundlessly as preparation, pizzicati with right or left hand, finger twangs, upwards and downward arpeggios, and so on. But an initial injunction, characteristically, directs the ‘Singing and melody parts to be stressed as much as possible’, and indeed these pieces are always musically satisfying rather than mere prodigies of virtuosity (though they are that as well). Despite their overall title, not all the Etüden are polyphonic in the sense of combining simultaneous contrapuntal lines. Sometimes, like even Bach’s violin fugues on occasion, they merely suggest them, or through wide-leaping figuration give the impression of keeping different areas of the violin’s tessitura in constant activity. In a gesture that anticipates the six solo violin sonatas of Ysaÿe, Ernst dedicated each study to a different great violinist among his contemporaries. Whether, like Ysaÿe, Ernst also sought to convey something of the dedicatees’ individual playing styles, it is now not possible to say, but he presumably at least had their personal musical tastes in view.

Etüde I, a Rondino-Scherzo in F major, is dedicated to a fellow Moravian, the Prague-born virtuoso Ferdinand Laub (1832–1875). A rollicking jig-like idea, apparently in two voices, is contrasted with a gentler melody in A flat with a rapidly flowing accompaniment. The two ideas are magisterially combined in the final section of the work.

Etüde II, an Allegretto in A major, is dedicated to the French violinist-composer Prosper Sainton (1813–1890), who had settled in London. (He was the husband of the singer Charlotte Dolby, for whom Mendelssohn wrote the contralto role in Elijah, and grandfather of the composer Philip Sainton, who wrote the score for John Huston’s film of Moby Dick.) The piece is a kind of kittenish caprice characterized by running quavers (to be played con grazia) with double-stopped accompaniment.

Etüde III in E major, entitled Terzetto, is dedicated to Joachim. As the title implies, this is a genuine polyphonic study in three voices, often three real parts. Despite its complex construction, it emanates a subtle, inward beauty that requires an expressive legato, even in the negotiation of wide-stretched double- and triple-stopped passages, which makes it very difficult to play. The concluding section, marked con molto espressione, must be one of the most challenging things in the violinist’s repertoire.

Etüde IV, a flamboyant C major Allegro risoluto, is inscribed to the Belgian violinist-composer Henri Vieuxtemps. Here flashing moto perpetuo-like scalic figures and arpeggios are contrasted with pugnacious, wide-spanned triple- and quadruple-stopped chords.

Etüde V, entitled Air de Ballet—Allegretto con giusto and in G minor—bears the name of Joseph Hellmesberger (1828– 1893), the celebrated Viennese violinist and conductor, leader of the famed Hellmesberger String Quartet and director for over fifty years of the Vienna Conservatoire. This is a kind of skittish polka with a double-stopped accompaniment, technically rather similar to Etüde II, but entirely different in character.

If any of the Mehrstimmige Etüden has achieved an independent existence it is Etüde VI, undoubtedly the most famous of the set. Subtitled Die letzte Rose, it takes the form of an introduction, theme and variations in G major, the theme being the well-known Irish song ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. The dedication is to the Italian violinist and composer—his works include an opera on Gozzi’s Turandot—Antonio Bazzini (1818–1897). By inscribing this final and crowning piece to a contemporary Italian Ernst was probably also paying homage at one remove to the greatest of all Italian virtuosos, his hero and the founder of the school of virtuosity of which he and Bazzini were both exemplars: Niccolò Paganini. Certainly this Etüde emulates, and seeks to surpass, Paganini’s unaccompanied variation works.

After a dramatic introduction, the theme is stated lyrically, though already with a full accompaniment. There follow four variations, of which the first is a brilliant embellishment in thirds, sixths and octaves. Variation II is a dazzling spiccato cross-string arpeggio study, eventually requiring notation on two staves for its closing bars. Variation III takes the theme’s initial figure of three rising notes and turns it into a heroic polyphonic ascent; Variation IV combines fluid, rapid scales with the tune in left-hand pizzicato notes and harmonics. Harmonics become a prominent feature of the extended finale, which as a display of bravura rivals anything to be found in Paganini’s Caprices.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008

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