JENÖ HUBAY (1858 - 1937)
Often described as the father of modern Hungarian violin playing, Jenő Hubay had a cosmopolitan training, spanning both the German and Franco-Belgian schools of violin playing. He began lessons with his father Karl (Károly) Huber (1828–1885), who was himself a professor of violin in Budapest as well as leader of the National Theatre orchestra and was also known as a conductor of some note, directing the Budapest premiere of Wagner’s Lohengrin in 1866.
After five years of study at the Berlin Hochschule, Hubay returned to Budapest, befriended Liszt and with him gave performances of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 and Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, amongst others. He then moved to Paris where he was to become both a pupil and personal friend of Vieuxtemps (who dedicated his Violin Concerto No. 7 to Hubay); it was through this illustrious connection that he was awarded a coveted professorship at the Brussels Conservatoire.
His return to Budapest in 1886 was partly, it would seem, on patriotic grounds. Hubay, who had changed his name to make it more conspicuously Hungarian, was in many ways a thoroughly indigenous musician. In addition to aspects of his personal life (he married a baroness and, in 1909, was knighted) his playing, too, had an unmistakably Hungarian stamp. This is also true of his many compositions, all of which reflect an interest in Magyar folk idioms (although they are transmitted via a mainstream European musical context, unlike the music of Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, with whom Hubay had little sympathy). Most popular amongst string players is his set of folk-inspired ‘poems’, Scènes de la Csárda, composed during the 1880s.
Hubay’s recordings with HMV were made in 1928–1929 when he was over seventy years old; they nonetheless reveal a quite extraordinary talent and one that in many ways transcends analysis. On the surface the performances are certainly faulty, or at least aesthetically reprehensible from today’s standpoint. His (more or less continuous) vibrato is exceptionally wide and slow; combined with pronounced and languid portamenti this creates a rather exaggerated effect. His tone, especially on the G-string, is remarkably sonorous and indicates a superb mastery of bow control, although, as in ‘Pici Tubicám’, he is not always reliable in intonation. Somehow this does not seem to matter: nor does the questionable taste of his performance of the Wilhelmj arrangement of Bach’s Air ‘on a G-string’, BWV 1068, or Handel’s Larghetto. What one hears is playing that is deeply and darkly expressive with some interesting features (such as very narrow semitones in the Intermezzo from one of Hubay’s own operas, The Violin Maker of Cremona), resulting in an almost unbearably intense evocation of Hungarian violin playing.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)