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Enescu, Beethoven and Rachmaninov: Radu Lupu (piano) George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra Bucharest/ Cristian Mandeal (conductor) Concertgebouw, Amsterdam 03.12.2006 (ED)


Enescu  First orchestral suite in C, op. 9
Beethoven  Fifth piano concerto, op. 73 'Emperor'
Rachmaninov  Symphonic Dances, op. 45


This concert in the large hall of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw was mounted as part of “Romania close to you” project organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute to mark the anticipated accession of the country to the European Union on 1 January 2007. Even without that reason the concert would still have been worthy of attention, given that Radu Lupu’s concert appearances grow ever rarer and he has stopped recording altogether.


First, however, came the far from insignificant First orchestral suite by George Enescu, played by the Bucharest orchestra that has carried his name since 1955. Cristian Mandeal, their expert chief conductor, has made the performance of Enescu’s music a central part of his career.   Cast in four movements, the opening Prelude à l’unisson could only be inspired by the instinctive playing of folk-fiddlers, but Enescu unifies the entire string body effectively to make them sound a single player. With a dramatic sense of pacing, Mandeal imbued this enlarged body with passion, which grew still further with entry of rolling timpani. The string playing was up front and honest rather than over-polished, but then this is music that benefits most when not divorced from the spirit of its native land. The following Menuet lent mixes discernable French elements with others drawn from Romania in delicate fashion. Mandeal promoted this delicacy in the playing, securing soaring lines from flutes and horns, before closing with a confidently executed gradual crescendo over a regular ‘heartbeat’ from the timpani. The Intermède strode boldly in the strings and winds before being brought to an intended sudden break, after which a reflective mood change was registered subtly. The closing Final is a rumbustuous and extrovert gallop, with cellos, basses and percussion taking a leading role. With Mandeal intent on driving the pace forward to make the most of the movement’s surging energy a grand and imposing ending was achieved.


Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto was given the most individual reading I can recall hearing for ages.  Lupu (who looks ever more like Brahms!) matched the orchestra’s grand opening tutti in his opening finesse. The work progressed in the first movement at a moderate pace, allowing much colour to come out in the orchestration. Lupu’s playing of the solo part reminded us of a style of Beethoven interpretation from another age – by turns involved and committed, but mixed with passages that were almost against the big-boned Beethoven many would recognize today. Whilst impetuous and sensitive in equal measure, his playing related well to the orchestral contex; indeed he maintained close eye contact with individual orchestra members as well as with Mandeal throughout. The middle movement was notable for the broad legato lines in the orchestra and Lupu’s discrete, evenly fingered contribution. If the link to the final movement was thought by some to be over-tentative, then there was much contrast to be had once when finale got fully into its stride. Lupu and Mandeal relished the nuances of interplay to be found among the grander gestures to produce a thrilling conclusion to the work.


Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances can be a real orchestral showpiece in the right hands, and Cristian Mandeal certainly has full grasp of the work. Utilising the piece to show off the quality of his orchestra, he shaped a reading that was not just highly dramatic in its massive fortissimi but was also responsive to the colouring of orchestral lines. The first dance saw the darker hues mixed with skill at an increasingly upbeat tempo, an effect further heightened by resplendent brass playing. The gradual diminuendo ending was superbly judged by Mandeal. From the start, the second dance was imposing in the cello part, across which the flutes later floated freely. Orchestra leader Anda Petrovici handled the violin solo with aplomb before Mandeal navigated the movement’s tricky tempo changes with a deft sureness of touch. After an intentionally uneasy foray into the minor, the major key was regained with confidence. Mandeal made the mood of the third dance seem rather morose, though some contrast was present by bullish percussion playing. Essentially an outsized tango, the dance was carried along under its own impetus, growing ever larger with each poste and riposte amongst the orchestral sections, repeatedly calling to mind the image of a toreador caught up in the fight with elements of pursuit and attack inside a massive onslaught. With all this passion, this was a performance that could hardly be bettered.


As an encore, the George Enescu Philharmonic under Mandeal left us a cultured reading of Enescu’s First Romanian Rhapsody. Within the essentially well-mannered framework, individual orchestral sections – especially the woodwinds - played with enthusiasm to lend the piece much character.




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)