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Beethoven, Bruch, Enescu, Brahms: Gil Sharon (violin/viola), Adriana Winkler (violin), Catalin Ilea (cello), Michael Abramovich (piano). Romanian Cultural Institute, London.1.10.2009. (ED)

This concert marked the opening of the Enescu Society’s third season, hosted by the Romanian Cultural Institute in London. The aim of the Society is to present a range of Enescu’s work alongside other major international composers, performed by musicians of significant stature. Taking place in the grand L-shaped first floor salon, the audience experienced chamber music of the highest order in the most convivially intimate surroundings.

Beethoven’s fifth piano trio, “the Ghost,” was vividly projected; the first movement benefitting greatly from the fine phrasing given by Gil Sharon to the violin line, whilst Catalin Ilea produced cantabile legato of some sweetness, all of which was neatly underpinned by Michael Abramovich’s efficient yet attentively accented piano-playing. The second movement – the ‘ghost’ movement – emphasised the foreboding felt in the string parts, and in doing so might have stretched the musical structure somewhat. Much in the way of feeling for the music though was added through the tonal blend projected by all. Michael Abramovich explored the murky bass register of the Institute’s Steinway baby grand, then found a brittle brilliance in the top register. The lively Presto was eloquent yet full of wit, firm yet impassioned, held together by a rare unity of timing, co-ordination and musical understanding.

Two of Bruch’s Eight Pieces, op.83 followed. Written in 1910 in a style more reminiscent of Schumann, and originally scored for clarinet, viola and piano, here Adriana Winkler played the clarinet part on the violin, and Catalin Ilea transcribing the viola line down to the cello. Number three of the set, in C-flat minor, first entwined full vibrato cello tone with the piano, before introducing a smooth legato line for the violin, played with metallically incisive tone by Adriana Winkler. The development and imaginative blending of both elements was neatly realised. Number five, a passionate Andante cast in the key of F minor, highlighted Bruch’s imitation of the cimbalom in the piano part, whilst the strings brought out qualities of sorrow and sadness in their themes, loosely based on Romanian folk music, before drifting into silence, as if to capture a fading echo heard across the Carpathians mountains.

Enescu’s mighty Piano Trio in A minor dates from 1916, and remains even in Romania a rarely performed work. Several factors account for this: that it is stylistically somewhat a hybrid work linking to both early and later works makes it hard to categorise and being long neglected, a performing edition was only comparatively recently prepared from the all-but-complete manuscript. Performance though makes one wonder at the folly of neglect, as the trio of Winkler, Ilea and Abramovich met head-on the considerable demands Enescu makes. The opening Allegro moderato moulded rhapsodic feeling with the confines of sonata form, relentlessly propelled forward by the thematic material itself. Enescu’s time in Paris, and friendship with Ravel, is echoed most notably with deft Gallic touches forming a highlight of the piano part. The allegretto moderato second movement, a set of theme and variations, pulls the listener back and forth with its torrent of emotions, ranging from anxious accents in the cello-given theme, shaded further by the darkness of self-sorrow, although at times some outward happiness tries, but ultimately fails, to mask this. Almost without time to gather one’s self the trio launched into the Andante closing movement, which deepened further the emotional range to the almost funereal, before lightening the tone in a Vivace closing section that completely swept away the previous prevailing darkness.

The second half featured a single work, Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor, op. 60. That Enescu knew Brahms and played under his baton is well known, the compositional links are strong too. In the first movement I could not help making the obvious connections in tragic character between the two programmed works, and in turn recognising afresh the measure of German influences that had sat alongside the French and other unique factors within Enescu’s composition. Brahms has them all abundance: solidity of structure, clarity of instrumental voice, weighty thematic material expertly explored. The second movement Scherzo came across as a touch obsessive and nervous in character, with the repeated piano lines. The Andante continued the feeling of outward emotion writ large through the intense alternation of cello/piano figures with a pliantly-played violin part, all of which built towards a fluently conceived and rousing finale.

Evan Dickerson

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