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A Romanian Musical Adventure: Chamber music by Silvestri, Bentoiu, Enescu and Ciortea at the Romanian Cultural Institute, 1 Belgrave Square, London, 26.01.2006. (ED)


Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969): String Quartet (1944 - UK premiere)

Maistor Quartet: Vlad Maistorovici (violin I), Lukas Medlan (violin II), Vanessa McNaught (viola), Andrei Simion (cello)


Pascal Bentoiu (1927- ): String Quartet Op 27, (1980 - UK premiere)

Sitkovetsky Quartet: Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin I), Diana Galvydyte (violin II), Daniel Palmizio (viola), Oliver Coates (cello)


George Enescu (1881-1955): Aria and Scherzino for solo violin and string quintet (1909 - UK premiere) Vlad Maistorovici (violin) and Piano Quintet


Tudor Ciortea (1903-1981): Piano Quintet in C sharp minor (1957 - UK premiere)

Piano Quintet: Anda Anastasescu (piano), Poitr Jordan (violin I), Jessica Boyd (violin II), Ailbhe Smyth (viola), Nikolay Ginov (cello)



The image of a questing, musical adventurer could not be more apt for a Festival that has proven a real ear-opener over recent months. This latest concert, featuring four powerful and highly contrasting chamber works, took the audience on a journey of discovery in the company of composers whose voices show individuality demanding of wider attention. The personal impact they made was to inspire an internal journey of emotions, reflections and associations that left in its wake a greater realisation of the many influences and contrasts that have played upon and influenced the direction of Romanian musical culture.


Following Anda Anastasescu's piano recital that revealed the direct and involving solo compositional voice of Constantin Silvestri, came one of his string quartets that shows Silvestri at work on a higher plane of complexity. The path it follows takes one on a seldom charted journey away from the comforts of a city-based civilisation into the wilds of a mountain climb through the Carpathians, where each instrument contributes tellingly to what one sees, hears, feels and experiences.


Silvestri’s inventive manner of deploying the quartet’s forces results in two elements of the first movement being played off one against another: con passione and agitato e molto espressivo. To the former Vlad Maistorovici brought more than a hint of the Dispirato! with which Silvestri also marked the movement, his playing having an incisive directness in the chamber context that I have noted in solo performances on previous occasions.  The heart on sleeve passion that dominates Silvestri’s compositional view is heard tellingly elsewhere in the quartet too. After a second movement of some refinement, in which the marking Brilliante giocoso was fully exploited, the third movement, Nostalgico, the viola effectively created the impression of a composer looking within himself and questioning his artistic motivations and means to realise ambitions.  That Silvestri held ambitions, both as a composer and performer, is beyond doubt – and nowhere is this more clearly expressed than the final movement: Con virtuosità, ma leggiero. As a conductor he held that his goal was to get an orchestra to play with chamber-like or solo precision, and this movement often placed the first violin against the trio, as if trying to give voice to Silvestri’s inner vision.  That a string orchestra version of the work also exists, perhaps also goes some way towards substantiating Silvestri’s belief in it, and one feels that an assured outing for larger forces is long overdue to further advance the composer’s cause.


Bentoiu’s quartet took our musical adventurer to the veritable cliff-top of consciousness in that the work concerns itself with the processes and structures of thought as articulated in sound. The three movement structure captured a sense of thought, counter-thought, consequence and reaction throughout, even though the listener is left to speculate on what might be the exact stimuli for what is heard. The closest one comes is an identification of the emotions at work, which take in the full range from almost nonchalant elements at the start to a powerful Energico at the close of the first movement, with separate instruments taking different strains of the thought process. The middle movement – Quasi presto – was passionate in its urgings, expressed through disturbed chord configurations, as if they were the inner one-sided reaction to an argument. The closing Lento brought a resolution of sorts in which solo and quartet pizzicato playing of some strength was in evidence. With solo cello passages of some distinction and nobility, a poignancy was revealed in Bentoiu’s writing, most ably articulated in Oliver Coates’ playing.


Enescu’s Aria and Scherzino came across as a nostalgic look towards Parisian culture, although rather from a foreigner’s viewpoint. Composed when Enescu was just 17 for a competition, it shows an unnaturally high assimilation of authentic French sonority alongside a sure deployment of technical factors that were stipulated in the competitors’ entry rules. As the violinist Sherban Lupu has commented, “although it is cast in a baroque style, nonetheless the Enescian blend of chromatic progression and generous melodic line are present.” The brief Aria reveals colour qualities in the soloist, whereas the longer – though still compact – Scherzino delivers virtuosic opportunities using spiccato and double stopping. Maistorovici’s solo playing confidently brought out both elements in a performance that was immediate and emotional, notably benefiting from his willingness to dig the bow into the strings to secure power, emotion and drive rather than beauty of tone. It proved most gripping, and for a few spellbound moments the passage of time was stilled in this reverie.


Tudor Ciortea’s Piano Quintet was the evening’s most formidable composition, lasting well over half an hour. Cast in four involved movements, it betrayed variously elements of French schooling (Ciortea studied under Dukas), as well as many folklore influences ranging from Romanian through Slav, Byzantine, and the Oriental – and all being left as impressions in the history of Romania’s musical culture due to her unique geographical location and past. This process of absorption and assimilation in order to produce something individual, is a characteristic that so often sets Romanian musical though apart even within the Danube basin: music is history in Romania to a unique extent.


The opening Larghetto, of sonata form in majestic vein, once again turned the listener towards images of nature with intricately captured rural motifs at play especially in the piano part. The cello part, superbly played, often made one think heroic thoughts – to the extent that it became the embodiment of our musical adventurer striding over magnificent mountain ranges.  The second movement offered contrast in the form of dance motifs most melancholically given to the viola, before the piano once again took the lead in the long and emotional introduction to the third movement, an adagietto cast as a lied in A-B-A-B form. With motifs passed freely between players both here and in the final Vivace Rondo, sensitivity to nuance and awareness of the many stylistic influences was needed to bring out Ciortea’s complex compositional intentions fully.

This is music that demands as much (if not more) natural instinctive reaction in the playing as learned skill. If this performance didn’t quite have that in ideal proportions it was for no fault of trying. How one wished that a second performance might have been possible: then no doubt things would have been more assured. However, the chance to hear this music at all is something rare indeed, even in Romania, so any slight imperfections or lack in shadings mattered little; the opportunity to expand ones musical awareness was the important thing. The final concert of the Festival (Purcell Room, 18 February) brings the adventure to a close with a trip to the theatre: the Theatre of the Absurd.

Evan Dickerson



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)