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A Romanian Musical Adventure: Angela Rippon, narrator; London Schubert Players / Florin Totan, St. Peter’s Church, Notting Hill 10.12.2005 (ED)



Marius Herea: Overture: Vlad, Prince of Wallachia – the real Dracula (World Premiere)

Irina Odagescu: Youth everlasting and Life without End for narrator and orchestra, on a Romanian fairy tale (World Premiere)

Luminita Spanu: Suite: Pictures from the Carpathians (UK Premiere)

Doru Popovici: Princess Lupu’s Song; Wallachian Dance (UK Premiere)


Enescu’s many talents will, for some, be the extent of their knowledge of Romanian music. This concert, from the small but significant festival “A Romanian Musical Adventure” organised by the pianist Anda Anastasescu brought public attention to a quartet of works by composers that merit wider public attention. The fact that the festival is the first dedicated to Romanian composers in London says much in itself about the work that has still to be done in unveiling the riches that this multi-faceted land has nurtured over the years. It is not before time that the wider world knows more of them.

In their own way each of the four works presented here contributes a comment upon Romania, her personalities, her geography, her folk stories and her natural musical forms. Having said that one might expect much of the music to be imbued with a folk-lilt (all too often wrongly assumed to be gypsy originating), but with a few exceptions such an influence was noticeably absent from these works.

Instead Marius Herea (b. 1969) in his overture Vlad, Prince of Wallachia – the real Dracula made use of rich and dramatic orchestration to paint a vivid musical impression of Vlad Tepesh – a key figure from Romanian history. In choosing to portray Vlad’s well documented battle exploits against the Turks, which led to his death in 1476, Herea afforded opportunities for a stirring allegro maestoso for strings and winds (which also ends the work) to create an impression of the tragic hero. The Turks, by turns brought powerfully to life through galloping rhythms on insistent timpani and trumpet calls, put up strong opposition before Vlad’s forces gained the upper hand musically and dramatically. The performance, strongly conceived by Bucharest-based conductor Florin Totan, gave prominence to atmospheric brass contributions and readily drew images to mind.

By far the longest work, and indeed most unusual as regards to form, in the programme was the other world premiere: Youth everlasting and Life without End by Irina Odagescu (b. 1937). In common with Herea’s approach her music sought to illustrate the narrative of the fairy tale by Petre Ispirescu – here given in English translation and narrated by Angela Rippon with a consummately professional touch. The tale is of a young prince who leaves home to search for youth everlasting and life without end, accompanied by a magical horse, through the land of the giant woodpecker to a castle with three beautiful fairies, before wandering into the Vale of Tears, inducing a desire to return home only to find desolation and old age. Although the music utilised a leitmotif technique to illustrate stages of the story – and at times forcefully so – it rather seemed the narrative that formed the ‘continuo’ part. Odagescu’s writing showed skill in characterizing the main characters and episodes in an appealing manner, though at times Totan’s direction might have benefited from a touch more urgency. Unsurprisingly given that she commented on the sad nature of the tale as a major factor that drew her to it, this is perhaps the work’s lasting impression, though it was unenjoyable because of that fact. Indeed, for it to be otherwise would have been counter to the spirit of the work.

Luminita Spanu (b. 1966) brought a suite of six pieces that conjured up images of the Carpathian Mountains – Romania’s imposing geographical spine - as inspired by poems by Stefan Iosif. The Darkness brought a most eerie impression of swirling mountain winds, captured on the edge of notes for the strings. Doina – the most naturally Romanian of musical forms expressing longing and sadness - brought out the very personal connection of the composer - now resident in London – with her homeland.  Other miniature pictures – Little Shepherd’s Scherzo and Hermit’s Story – evoked with playful fun and a certain sense of whimsy the way that landscape has become interwoven with popular consciousness. The Evening Star brought the suite full circle in terms of closing the image at nightfall, again painting with broad stokes across the whole orchestra a powerful image of the eternal Carpathian scenery.

Two short pieces by Doru Popovici (b. 1932) closed the concert in most assured fashion. Princess Lupu’s Song, somewhat of an elegy in character, and cast for string orchestra was given with a richness of tone that had occasionally eluded the performance of Spanu’s work.  The Wallachian Dance carried a real bounce to it and amply reflected the modern, yet absolutely tonal, view of dance motifs drawn from the south-eastern Romanian region.

In her programme note Anastasescu comments that “the need to cherish one’s roots… becomes an emotional charge for people like myself” and encourages “others to survey the country’s musical legacies.” I can only urge you most strongly to continue the adventure that the remaining concerts hold out for London audiences, and the music making is entirely respectable too.



Festival details: http://www.musiclink.co.uk/lsp/festival.html



Evan Dickerson


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