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A Romanian Musical Adventure: Anda Anastasescu, piano, Wigmore Hall, London. 30.12.2005 (ED)

 

 

Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969): Piano sonata, Op.19 No.2 ‘Quasi una fantasia’ (1940 – UK Premiere)

Beethoven: Piano sonata, Op.31 No.2 ‘The Tempest’
Silvestri: Chants nostalgiques, Op.27 No.1 (1944 – UK Premiere)
George Enescu (1881-1955): Suite, Op.10 ‘Des cloches sonores’ (1903 – UK Premiere)

Chopin: Grandes Valses Brillantes Op.34 No.3 and No.1; Valse Op. posth in E minor; Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op.20

 

 

This latest concert in London’s ongoing Romanian Musical Adventure Festival had at its core three over-riding characteristics: emotion, contrast and integrity. All three can be applied with ease to the music of Constantin Silvestri, best known and remembered as an inspirational conductor, whose compositions Anda Anastasescu has done much to bring before a wider public.

If ever music were to be taken as a reflection of its creator and his condition, Silvestri’s two movement piano sonata would have to be cited as a prime example. The work, of startling maturity and insight into the piano as an instrument, was penned at a time of great difficulty for Silvestri: constantly in and out of sanatoria, struggling to make a living as an opera répetiteur in Bucharest. As Anastasescu aptly pointed out in her programme note, the first movement begins with an introvert ‘parlando’ then becoming increasingly lyrical, then hectically exhilarating before achieving a calm of sorts. However, Anastasescu’s performance left us in no doubt that Silvestri never achieved a true calmness of spirit at this time.

As if to continue this impression the second movement’s waltz-rondo is also cast in fragile forms, at once disjointed through the struggle of emotions it contains: fear, and ghost-like self-doubt being the most dominant, as well as the most confidently portrayed in Silvesti’s writing. The ever enigmatic coda hung through Anastasescu’s playing like a fine mist in the air at the end. Still and far from a place of inner stability, the work astutely avoids a specific key, though not through use of bi- or poly-tonal techniques that Silvestri often employed.

During his lifetime Silvestri often felt his compositions to be misunderstood, often facing the criticism that they were not sufficiently of traditional Romanian origin. The composer Anatol Vieru, once a Silvestri pupil, has passionately countered that argument – and Silvestri remains a composer of absolute originality.

Such a view is only strengthened when encountering Silvestri’s Chants nostalgiques. Cast in three sections – Pensiero, Espressivo and Misterioso – and subtitled ‘Studies in dynamics’ the work’s many-layered internal contrasts spring from a mix of influences, some Romanian, others seemingly more cosmopolitan – Debussy perhaps being the strongest.  Written at a time when conducting was gaining the upper hand over composition for him, the piece shows more than a hint of melancholy combined with a deeply reflective and articulate voice sure of it’s ability to articulate creative concerns.

All of this at a time when the compositions of George Enescu are establishing themselves before the public too. As a nod to the great master of Romanian music at the end of the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Anastasescu offered the second of his piano suites, a work of some precociousness for a student aged just 22.

Submitted anonymously for a competition it won Enescu the Pleyel prize of a baby grand piano. The work’s four movements – Toccata, Sarabande, Pavane and Bourrée – display not only his awareness of forms that would remain central to his creative persona, but also diffuse through the movements something from his homeland: the Pavanne’s trilled theme (marked quasi flute) in its doina-like spirit or the Bourrée’s distinctly folk-like appearance rather than anything French in character. However there are fleeting scents of Fauré to be had, not to mention Wagner under whose temperamental compositional influence Enescu fell early on. So too there might appear briefly a wistful glimpse of Chopin – whose music would end the present concert.

Anastasescu characterised Enescu’s long lines vividly throughout, allowing his love of a strong and resonant bass often against a bell like treble register to sing magnificently. Indeed, her approach to Enescu’s suite succinctly encapsulates her qualities as an artist: precision balanced by exuberance, intelligence in preference to outward showiness and fidelity to the spirit of the composer.

If a contrast can be seen as complementary, then in that light must be taken the Beethoven and Chopin works. With some shrewd programming Anastasescu subtly made the point that for the Silvestri and Enescu pieces to be best understood, they should be heard against mainstream repertoire. Beethoven’s sonata The Tempest heightened the emotional rollercoaster started by Silvestri’s sonata. Whilst Anastasescu’s performance might not have taken the work completely to the point of wild abstraction that some pianists find, hers was a coherent view of tumult fused with careful sonority and unstoppable lyric episodes. Ultimately, the closing Allegretto brought some resolution.

The Chopin waltzes contrasted neatly with Silvestri’s use of waltz rhythms in his sonata, and extended too the set of forms employed by Enescu. Op.34 No.3 is often likened to cats’ paws on a keyboard: so, Anastasescu’s kitten was fleet of foot and crisply articulate. The scherzo with which she ended the evening was carefully drawn with a lightness of touch.  By this stage no doubt many in the audience had turned their thoughts to that supreme Chopin interpreter, and Romanian performer-composer, Dinu Lipatti – who along with Clara Haskil, Radu Lupu, Valentin Gheorghiu, Andrei Vieru and, from younger generations, Luisa Borac and Mihaela Ursuleasa form a line of great Romanian pianists. Not for the first time before London audiences Anda Anastasescu was heard to be their equal in vision and artistic integrity.

 

 

Evan Dickerson

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