Notes and Editorial Reviews
R E V I E W S:
Gringolts dazzles as he shows his deep involvement with this music
"Ilya Gringolts once again stakes his claim to stand alongside the best of the new batch of violinists with his deeply involved and irresistibly involving playing here. He is actually standing alongside the fast-rising pianist Ashley Wass, who proves an able foil." -- Gramophone [4/2008]
The notes to Ilya Gringolts’s recital of pieces by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst identify the composer as a follower of Paganini, one who, though he may have assumed the supreme virtuoso’s mantle, has been largely relegated by later generations
to the classroom (his Concerto in F? Minor used to be almost required repertoire for the most advanced students, even when violinists rarely played it in public). Gringolts’s readings of concoctions typical of Ernst’s
corroborate the observations of Ernst’s contemporaries that though he may not have played with greater brilliance than did Paganini, he mined a richer vein of musical emotion. The
Fantasy on Othello
(Andrei Korsakov played it on his program of “Fantasias and Pieces for Violin,” Melodiya 10-00255, 15:5) reveals the way in which Ernst deployed the techniques he absorbed from listening to Paganini: staccato runs in thirds, brilliant and dashing though they may be, for example, only embellish the melodic lines and hardly ever assume importance in their own right. (In Paganini’s works, the melodies might rather seem to be constructed to showcase the devices.) The
Six Polyphonic Studies
challenge the assumption that Ernst’s works explore less-forbidding technical terrain than do Paganini’s. Even the relatively straightforward Second Study, for example, requires double-stopped stretches that might break a weak will, but they indicate that in addition they be accompanied by left-hand pizzicatos. Ernst dedicated each of the studies to one of his great colleagues: Laub, Sainton, Joachim, Vieuxtemps, Hellmesberger, and Bazzini, respectively, and each encapsulates the dedicatee’s violinistic personality (Joachim’s, heavily encrusted with double-stops, recalls similar passages in the “Hungarian” Concerto, while Vieuxtemps’s brings to mind his bold arpeggiated passages in diminished sevenths).
Ruggiero Ricci (Dynamic 28) and, more recently, Ingolf Turban (Claves 50-9613, 20:6), have recorded all six
, and while both sets sound amazingly brilliant, some of Ricci’s dazzle comes from his devil-may-care, slapdash approach, while the more solid Turban seems to rely on the music itself to make its points. But 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 (Ricci’s had already established a benchmark that seemed all but unattainable). In the next Study, dedicated to Joachim, he slows down to reveal the full range of sentiment with which Ernst laced it. The last Study, a set of variations on
The Last Rose of Summer,
has perhaps kept Ernst’s reputation alive more effectively than have any other of his works; and violinists like Ricci and Kremer have included it in their repertoire (Midori played it in her highly-touted recital in Carnegie Hall—Sony Classical 46742—making it at least look, if not sound, effortless). If the Vieuxtemps-like arpeggios (recalling the dedicatee’s own extended technical fantasy,
) of the Fourth Study proceed with too may interruptions of the basic tempo, in the fifth one, dedicated to Hellmesberger, the same kind of nuances, now clearly more pert than precious, hit the mark. From his lurching introduction to the Sixth Study (the variations on
The Last Rose of Summer
), it’s clear that Ilya Gringolts conceives the piece as a poetic rumination rather than a simple set of technical explorations. It’s Mel Tormé playing with his
rather than singing it straight from the sheet. Did the violinists of yore deliver their works this way? Violinists today surely don’t, and perhaps that’s why when they play them the erstwhile showpieces so often sound uninteresting despite their death-defying challenges. Ilya Gringolts has recorded all of Wieniawski’s
op. 18, with Alexandr Bulov on BIS 1016, reviewed 23:4 (Wieniawski provided the Caprices with a second violin part). Wieniawski’s work also enshrines lyrical, even poetic, musical ideas, of which Gringolts and Bulov take what seems to be maximum advantage.
, which Ilya Grubert included in his collection of works by Ernst for violin and orchestra with Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra on Naxos 8.557565 (which Steven E. Ritter reviewed in 30:5 and I reviewed in 31:1), 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. The final work on the program, Ernst’s
Fantasy on Schubert’s “Erlkönig,”
has also been taken up by violinists recently, including Leila Josefowicz and Rachel Barton Pine, Çedille 41, 22:3, as well as by Turban. It’s a hair-raising piece, with the violin shrieking the part of the child being carried off and recreating the wild ride’s urgency in driving triplets. Gringolts makes dramatic as well as technical sense of this expressionistic tone-painting and its literary origins in Goethe’s verse (although Turban seems to strike a deeper vein of poetry).
Ashley Wass serves as an effective partner in the
and in the
, one who doesn’t deprecate the music simply because it wasn’t written by one Ernst’s more famous contemporaries, like Berlioz. Ernst played chamber music in his namesake quartet with Joseph Joachim and Henri Wieniawski (the latter playing viola—there’s a famous photograph of them). So it seems that he perhaps commanded greater respect from his eminent contemporaries than he does from the ruck of critics nowadays. But if his reputation should regain any of its original luster, it will have to come about through a proliferation of the kind of insightful, sympathetic readings that Gringolts has given his music. The lively recorded sound captures Gringolts close enough to include heavy snorting and breathing, perhaps most annoying in so heartfelt a meditation as the
. Since Turban’s recording may no longer be available, 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: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
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