Jenö Hubay (1858-1937) is hardly a household name for most of us, but he was a quite significant figure in the world of Romantic violin music. A Hungarian of German ethnicity (he changed his name from Eugen Huber), Hubay debuted as a violinist at the age of 14, according to Bruce R. Schueneman's CD booklet notes, studied with Joseph Joachim, performed with Franz Liszt, and was close friends with fellow composer-violin virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps, whose final concerto he orchestrated. As professor and later director of the Budapest Academy of Music, he influenced such pupils as Eugene Ormandy and Joseph Szigeti, while writing a great deal of violin music, including four concertos, along with several symphonies and operas. Though the later decades of his career extend well into the era of Bartok and Kodaly, he was very much a musical conservative, according to Schueneman. Certainly the works recorded here, composed between 1882 and 1900, are thoroughly traditional, though still a pleasure to hear.
All four Hubay concertos were recorded by Hyperion as part of their Romantic Violin Concerto series, with Hagai Shaham and the BBC Scottish Symphony under Martin Brabbins; Nos. 1 and 2 appeared in 2006, with a Suite for Violin and Orchestra to fill out the CD. I haven't heard those performances, but can say that Chloë Hanslip offers gorgeous violin sound and a sense of relishing the challenges/opportunities of this music in the Central European Romantic style.
The First Concerto, from 1884, is subtitled Concerto dramatique, though it is hardly more dramatic than the well-known (and frankly, better) concertos of Vieuxtemps, Saint-Saens and Wieniawski. Indeed, the opening Allegro appassionato is downright genial in several places. The highpoint of the concerto for me is the shimmery, lyrical slow movement, an 11-minute sustained outpouring of lush but not overly thick Romantic sound. For contrast, the Allegro con brio finale is suitably vigorous, not quite stormy but brisk enough, with ample opportunity for virtuoso display and time for a slower, dreamier interlude.
The Second Concerto, written in 1900 and published a few years after, is pretty much in the same 19th-century idiom. The movement that begins Allegro con fuoco is not very "fiery," though the prominent woodwind accompaniments add a distinctive flavor. The slow movement, Larghetto, aims for a noble simplicity and sustains its entranced mood in a quite lovely fashion, while the finale has a playful energy.
As a bonus, sandwiched between the two concertos, are two Scčnes de la Csárda, a title that might be translated literally as "Scenes from the Hungarian Country Inn," where the czardas is the house dance. These are gypsy-flavored pieces, with the expected soulful cadenzas and fleet-fingered fast sections. No. 3 is the flashier of the two, but either one would be great fun to see performed in concert.
In all these works Hanslip offers a lightness of
touch as well as the panache that such music demands.