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Enescu, Ibert and Franck: Mario Caroli (flute) / Belgian National Orchestra / Cristian Mandeal (conductor). Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels. 30. 9.2007. (ED)

Georges Enescu Orchestral Suite no. 3, op. 27, "Villageoise"
Jacques Ibert Concerto for flute and orchestra
César Franck Symphony in d minor

This concert was billed as having “a thoroughly French programme”, which is true but only to a point. Each of the featured composers owes a significant debt to French influences and inferences in their music-making, yet not one stuck dogmatically to the accepted rules of the Conservatoire.

Even during his lifetime, Enescu was  thought of as a French composer. His third orchestral suite makes the point most clearly that this is not the case. All too rarely performed, this, his last work for full orchestral forces showcases a personal style, refined through years of meticulous work. If the suite is considered at all, many interpret it as being a kind of orchestral equivalent of Impressions de L'Enfance, which Enescu wrote for violin and piano duet. Like Impressions the suite is more than a fond reminiscence of a far-off childhood and is the most personal of statements about who Enescu was at his core: a Romanian.

Cristian Mandeal led a performance that emphasised the personal qualities of Enescu’s orchestration, fusing its inflections of dance with atmospherically rustic countryside scenes and nostalgia for his youthful home. The National Orchestra of Belgium, obviously well rehearsed by Mandeal, coped well with the demands placed upon it. The first movement, Renvouneau champêtre, began its pastoral mood in a low-key manner, but built up its gradual path with surety.  The second movement, Gamins en plain air, carried a heady blend of accents and rhythms that said much about  the rich Romanian landscape Enescu knew and loved so much. The lengthy third movement, a loving portrait of the family home at dusk, conjured its image through the interweaving of violin lines against contrasting bassoon and horn parts. The image of fond remembrance was completed with the contributions from off-stage clarinet and a trombone trio mixing with on stage piano tubular bells, piano and bass drum. The fourth movement, Rivière sous la lune, moved the scene to night-time. Its subtle scoring of harp, cymbal, celeste and muted trombones was carefully yet unobtrusively controlled by Cristian Mandeal, who showed particular sensitivity towards the diminuendo dynamic upon which the movement depends so much.  The last movement, sees Enescu kick aside nostalgic thoughts with a quick-fire sequence of uproarious Danses rustiques. Far from producing a pastiche of folk tunes, Enescu employed his knowledge of local idioms and colours to flavour his own tuneful inventions in this piece.  As ever in Enescu’s music,  attention to detail and tempo can make or break the intention but Mandeal’s choice of tempi throughout all made excellent sense, not only within themselves, but also in relation to each other.

Almost as rarely performed as Enescu’s suite, Ibert’s flute concerto nevertheless holds a special place in the affections of soloists. The qualities that endear it to them are easy to identify: its lyricism, elegance and charm come high on the list, as do its opportunities for technical display and musical bravura. The briefest orchestral tutti launches the first movement, and here Mandeal encouraging a lively pace which soloist the young Italian soloist Mario Caroli proved keen to follow. Throughout, the accompaniment was energetically propelled to underline the soloist’s drama. The second movement was wholly refined, yet never dragged at its slower tempo. It started with an impression being made by the clarity of texture its reduced forces could produce under Mandeal’s guidance and the tempo and grandeur of the music grew as it progressed. Caroli’s playing shared the same ambitions, but he showed his true spirit in the finale: jocular and lively whilst steering clear of an over-blown solo line. The brief cadenza injected a  moment of sadness - its minor key recalling moments in the first movement - before the concerto reached its rousing end.

Expounding the structural framework was central to Mandeal’s reading of Franck’s symphony. The first movement found the emphasis given to the great arches of sound formed by the repeated crescendo lines which unify strings and brass to thrilling effect.  This made the point that Franck’s symphony owes as much to German composers as French ones and at times the forte climaxes sounded nearly Brucknerian in scale, though with a softer edge to their tone. The Allegretto second movement was carefully shaped as Mandeal’s precise use of tempo changes created a pliant range of timbres in the violas and woodwinds particularly. The notable cor anglais solo was elegantly played by Bram Nolf. The crux of the work however, is found in the third movement. Here,  structure is formed using material found in the previous movements, yet  seeks to act simultaneously as a summation and antithesis. Inexorably the passion of the music grew, more effective for being held back by Mandeal at first  until Franck’s climactic statements burst forth at last,bristling with energy.  A fine conclusion to a most involving concert.


Evan Dickerson