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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


George ENESCU (1881 – 1955)
Piano Quintet Op.29 (1940)
Piano Quartet No.2 Op.30 (1943)
The Solomon Ensemble (Anne Solomon, Andrew Roberts, violins; Ralf Ehlers, viola; Rebecca Gilliver, cello; Dominic Saunders, piano)
Recorded: Potton Hall, Suffolk, September 2001
NAXOS 8.557159 [62:58]

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Enescu’s reputation as a brilliant virtuoso has long obscured, much to his dismay, his considerable achievement as a composer. He may be best remembered for his colourful Rumanian Rhapsodies Op.11 and his Violin Sonata No.3 "dans le caractère populaire roumain" Op.25. To limit his compositional achievement to these sole works would be – and definitely is – reductive. His early Austro-German training in Vienna with Helmesberger proved a long-lasting influence on his music (at least from the formal point of view). This was later tempered by his studies with Fauré in Paris. In fact, folk-inflected material tends to be fairly rare in his output, at least in direct terms. This is best heard in the Rumanian Rhapsodies, which – to some extent – are unique in his output, most of which consists of substantial, large-scale abstract pieces. There are for example three symphonies, two string quartets, two cello sonatas, three violin sonatas, a string octet and a Dixtuor for winds. His oeuvre culminates in the superb opera Oedip. True, a number of his mature works may still contain some folk-inflected material but more of the "imaginary folklore" sort, as in the beautiful and highly original Suite No.3 "Villageoise" Op.27 for orchestra. These voices can also be heard in the Third Violin Sonata and the Concert Overture in A major Op.32. Here the folk music influence is transcended in much the same way as Bartók did in his mature works. However, the bulk of his substantial concert works is conspicuously devoid of any folklore elements. It is characterised by highly elaborate, contrapuntal structures, often intricately worked-out. The downside is that Enescu’s thematic material may not be particularly distinguished or arresting, at least at first hearing. As Richard Whitehouse rightly remarks, "his themes, while rarely drawing attention to themselves, are capable of far-reaching transformation both across and between movements". This is certainly true as regards the two works recorded here.

The Piano Quintet Op.29, though probably composed in late 1940, was not performed during the composer’s lifetime and its belated premiere took place in 1964! It is a substantial work in three weighty movements sharing some thematic material. An emotionally restrained Con moto molto moderato working-out two main subjects is followed by a long lyrical Andante of great beauty and harmonic refinement. The quintet ends with yet another long movement Vivace ma non troppo capped by an epilogue restating the main themes heard in the course of the whole work. The music is often very chromatic and densely contrapuntal as well as quite impassioned at times.

The Piano Quartet No.2 Op.30, completed in 1943, was written in memory of Fauré, Enescu’s teacher in Paris, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death. The overall structure of the piece is roughly similar to that of the Piano Quintet; and the music is quite similar too - obviously from the same pen. The beautiful slow movement, may at times recall Fauré and has a more pronounced Gallic flavour than the outer movements. This Piano Quartet ends with a more animated movement bringing an affirmative conclusion.

If you know and love, say, Enescu’s string quartets and cello sonatas, you will know what to expect of these substantial, if sometimes intricate works, and you will need no further recommendation. The merits of this disc are all the more compelling given that the present performances are really very fine. These players obviously put their hearts into such committed and convincing readings of works that do not yield all their secrets in a single hearing. Clean and, to some tastes, close recording and excellent notes by Richard Whitehouse and Keith Anderson complete the picture. I should however point out that the former’s comments on the Piano Quintet are a bit misleading (as if a paragraph on the slow movement was missing) and the latter’s more general introduction has a slight mistake: Enescu’s first major work is Poème roumain Op.1 (not romaine as stated). These are minor quibbles that should not deter anyone from investigating this most welcome release. It adds considerably to one’s appreciation of Enescu’s compositional achievement.

Hubert Culot



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